Universally famous for having given birth to the patron saint of Italy, Assisi draws its origins from a small village inhabited by the Umbri in the Villanovan period (9th – 8th centuries B.C.). The town was eventually taken over by the Etruscans, and was under their control up to 295 B.C. when the Romans imposed their dominion over much of central Italy. For Asisium (as it was called by the Romans) it was a prosperous period. As a Municipium or municipality of Rome it became an important economical and social centre of the Roman Empire.
With the sudden fall of the empire, Assisi declined into a dark age of Barbaric invasions and, in 545, was plundered from the Goths. Conquered then by the Byzantines, it passed after a short time under the dominion of the Lombards, eventually becoming a “free commune” in the 11th century. After a long period of wars, in 1174 the town was besieged and won by Federico Barbarossa who gave the town over to imperial rule under Duke Corrado of Lutzen. Just a few years later, between 1181 and 1182, Francesco, son of Pietro di Bernardone, was born, the future Saint who, with his work, was to mark the history of the place, and of humanity.
Subsequently, the town became a dominion of the Church, under the rule of some important signorie, Perugini, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the Montefeltro family, Braccio Fortebraccio da Montone and finally, Francesco Sforza.
Assisi was permanently assigned to the Church in the time of Pope Paul III in the 16th century. In 1860, following a unanimous vote of the general populace, it became part of the new Italian State.
The Basilica complex is made up of two overlapping churches – the Lower (1228-1230) and the Upper (1230-1253). The crypt, excavated in 1818, holds the tomb of the Saint. The Lower Basilica, with its floor plan in the shape of a double “T,” is entered first from the lower courtyard that is lined by a portico dating to the 1400s. It is decorated by the greatest painters of the 13th and 14th centuries: Cimabue, Giotto, Lorenzetti, Simone Martini. The Upper Basilica, with its central nave, is embellished with the beautiful and famous frescoes of Giotto, illustrating the life of the Saint. The cloisters also hold many remarkable treasures including rare miniatures, paintings, reliquaries, tapestries and sacred furnishings.