When in Rome (Or Assisi)

Author: Payton Chronister

Tags: Europe, Exploring, Italy, Quarter Finalist

There are those vacations that leave you with fond memories, and there are those that leave you forever changed; my trip to Assisi was of the latter. After enduring a grueling five-hour layover, a turbulent overnight flight, and poor quality airplane food, I arrived in this quaint mountain village, located in the region of Umbria in beautiful Italy. This was my first stop on my week-long tour of the country, and compared to my future stops in historical cities such as Florence and Rome, I didn’t expect Assisi to make much of an impact on my spring break trip. I have never been more wrong.

As I stepped through the centuries-old entrance to the city, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the impeccable view of the Italian countryside. Only moments after, I noticed the cobbled streets, the narrow roadways, the pink flowers hanging from every balcony, and the awe-inspiring church steeple far in the distance (I would later learn this was the Basilica of Saint Francis). Ushered along by our chaperone, my travel companions and I walked to the center of this little city, itching to explore the winding side streets and small shops surrounding us. It was here that I experienced my first taste of Italian street food, ordered in a crude mixture of English and Italian.

After enjoying a delicious lunch and feeding the pigeons the leftovers, my friends and I decided to climb the many stairs up to Assisi’s castle, as per the recommendation of the tour guide. We finally reached the ancient Rocca Maggiore, blown away once again by the incredible views. We each paid for a ticket and proceeded to wander through the stone rooms, which were filled with actual armor and weaponry from the 1500s. The plaques told us that the castle was placed high on the mountain to avoid attacks, and that there was once heavy protection to keep the lepers and the poverty-stricken out of the ancient city, built in 295 B.C. It was interesting to learn about the history of the city, but my favorite parts of the castle were found when we left the traditional self-guided tour to explore the hidden spiral staircases and small nooks and crannies of the building. At one point, we encountered a staircase descending into a smothering darkness, and we discovered a narrow tunnel, lit only by small, infrequent windows, that led to a tall turret overlooking the city. I can remember the crisp fresh air and the strong winds, causing me to almost drop my camera. I remember being surrounded by mountains on three sides, while in front of me, Assisi seemed to stretch on endlessly through the valley. I remember how time seemed to stand still as I admired the small society that has thrived for centuries. Though I do not know the original purpose of the tunnel that led me to that peaceful spot, I am extremely thankful that I stumbled upon it.

I easily could have stayed in that castle all day, and I believe that if you ever find yourself lucky enough to be in Assisi, visiting the Rocca Maggiore is a must. Assisi may not be considered one of the gems of Italy, but do not discredit it due to its size. In just a few hours, I found a hidden secret of the city that left me with a greater appreciation for the beauty of the world around me; I can only imagine what else there is to discover in that mountain town.