Roman Assisi: Right Before Your Eyes
When talking about Assisi romana, we really have to cover two time periods: the before, the after.
An Italic people settled on the slopes of Mt. Subasio backdropping Assisi in about the 6th-century B.C. Not long after Pino and I had settled in the Umbrian countryside in 1975, I remember seeing bronze votive statues and a figure of Mars with sword and shield of the umbri (4th- 5th-c. B.C.?)-kept in the public library!
As of the 3rd-century B.C., the area is dominated by the Romans and as of 90-89 B.C., the inhabitants of Asisium obtain their civitas (status of Roman citizenship).
The exquisite temple rising in the main square – traditionally recognized as a Temple to Minerva but many archeologists, possibly dedicated to Hercules (?) – is constructed about that time (30 B.C.):
Assisi therefore has always been a spiritual center with a temple as center-point in the Roman time – and later, a town linked to San Francesco.
In many cases, temples were destroyed with the advent of Christianity but the conservation of Assisi’s Roman temple indicates its great importance in the urban fabric. It was transformed over the years, becoming at different moments, a prison, A place of municipal gatherings and eventually the Baroque church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (“Holy Mary on top of Minerva”).
Although the temple takes center-stage as evidence of the Roman presence in Assisi, signs of Roman Asisium are everywhere. How many of these Roman remnants will you find on your next Assisi stroll?
* a section of Roman road in Piazza San Rufino * sections of Roman sustaining wall in Via San Paolo – not far from the Temple to Minerva
…and in many another street as well…(look for those massive squared-off blocks of local limestone)
* the 1st-century A.D. family mausoleum just behind the Cathedral of San Rufino
* the Roman column near the area of the anfiteatro with St. Francis looking tranquilly down on it – perhaps of a 1st-c. A.D. portico near the circus or amphitheater * the inscribed Roman relief to the right of the side entrance of the Cathedral di San Rufino:
* Roman arches – possibly of the Roman theater? – incorporated into the wall of a home near San Rufino…
– ..with other sections of Roman wall visible on the facade of the home.. – and inside, Roman vaults form the ceilings of three rooms:
*in many a private garden, flowers and plants sit on slabs of former Roman edifices
… and Roman remnants might surmount an Assisi window:
*Roman inscriptions might be found on church walls as this one in local limestone..
…….on the side of the 17th-century Chiesa Nuova (“New Church”):
And many an Assisi church has altars mounted on Roman columns..as in the 11th-c Church of Santa Maria Maggiore:
The walls of your ristorante might be massive blocks of the Roman wall, as are those of the Ristorante/Pizzeria Menestrello:
Keep your eyes open when in the Assisi shops, too: more than one has a section of 1st-c. A.D. Roman wall as does Margherita’s boutique. Recently, her mamma Lisa proudly pointed out the sections of Roman wall…
Shoe are displayed elegantly on a Roman remnant
…and Roman wall flanks a surprised manniken:
Signs of Roman Assisi are right before you. Everywhere.