Assisi is known as the birthplace of Saint Francis and visitors flock to see the Saint Francis Church, Basilica di San Francesco. Beyond the walls of Assisi there are peaceful places in the woods once loved by Saint Francis that you can visit. In 2011, the San Francesco Woodland was opened to the public and walking paths allow visitors to experience the beauty of Assisi's forest. In this article Rebecca Winke, who runs Brigolante Guest Apartments near Assisi and writes the English section of Umbria on the Blog, gives an inside look at the San Francesco Woodland and how to visit it.
Saint Francis Woodland Project in Assisi
Over the past decades, Italy seems to have become the ever more floundering poster child for bureaucratic incompetence, fiscal irresponsibility, and political ineptitude. It's rare to come across a ray of optimism in this national climate, but the recent inauguration of the Bosco di San Francesco (the Saint Francis Woodland) was just that.
The result of a long and intricate cooperation between the FAI (Italy's National Heritage Trust), public administration, corporate sponsors, and private donors, the 50,000 square meter-about 12 acre-woodland restoration project included cleaning up more than 30 tons of waste, cutting back undergrowth and replanting native species of trees and shrubs, building and opening over 3 kilometers of walking paths, and restoring the 13th century Santa Croce Benedictine convent and mill, which are now used as a visitors' center.
What to See and Do in Saint Francis Woodland
San Francesco Woodland covers the slopes of Mount Subasio behind the town of Assisi and the Basilica of Saint Francis (one of the walking paths begins directly from the piazza facing the Basicila's Upper Church) and had been neglected for centuries. Its restoration is not aimed at purely environmental conservation, but an attempt to reconstruct for visitors the area's traditional rural landscape in the context of the Franciscan and Benedictine religious orders.
To this end, the woodland's 1.5 and 2 kilometer-long walking paths are color-coded--with corresponding explanatory notes, an audioguide, and mobile app--into three thematic routes: the landscape route, illustrating the history of the rural landscape in Italy; the historical route, which recounts the area's historic architecture; and the spiritual route, with reflections on the relationship between nature and mankind.
Also on the site is an original piece of landscape art by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, Terzo Paradiso, which elaborates on the mathematical symbol for infinity to comment on the unsustainability of the model of modern development and the union of heaven and earth. Covering almost 140 meters of land and using over 120 olive trees, the work is best viewed from atop the nearby restored medieval Annamaria Tower.
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