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Visible for miles around, the Basilica di San Francesco is the crowning glory of Assisi's Unesco World Heritage ensemble. It's divided into the Basilica Superiore, with a celebrated cycle of Giotto frescoes, and beneath, the older Basilica Inferiore, where you'll find frescoes by Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti and Simone Martini. Also here, in the Cripta di San Francesco, is St Francis' elaborate and monumental tomb.
The Basilica Superiore, which was built immediately after the lower church between 1230 and 1253, is home to one of Italy's most famous works of art – a series of 28 frescoes depicting the life of St Francis. Vibrant and colourful, they are generally attributed to a young Giotto, though some art historians contest this, claiming that stylistic discrepancies suggest that they were created by several different artists.
From outside the upper church, stairs lead down to the Romanesque Basilica Inferiore, whose half-light and architectural restraint beautifully embody the ascetic, introspective spirit of Franciscan life. Divine works by Giotto and fellow Sienese and Florentine masters Cimabue, Lorenzetti and Martini decorate the main body of the church and side chapels, representing an artistic weathervane for stylistic developments across the ages.
The basilica has its own information office, opposite the entrance to the lower church, where you can pick up an audio guide in 10 languages (€4). Groups of 10 or more can schedule an hour-long tour in English or Italian, led by a resident Franciscan friar. To avoid disappointment at busy times, either call ahead or reserve online.