Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Italy - Assisi

Dedicated to any Saint other than Francis, with whom I'm almost saturated.

Today was one of very few daytrips taken on this GT, heading out to the city so great it has it's own saint, Assisi of Francis.

Once you've entered the walled centre, situated high up on a hill with a mountainous backdrop, stacked in layers of mighty fortifications, majestic basilicas, and picturesque stone residential towers, the city leaves you in no doubt whatsoever that "Francis Was Here". There are more religious kitsch vendors than I've seen anywhere since the Vatican. And more religious tourists too - not only the highly visible and interestingly attired clergy, but lay folk with clear interests. One group of American teenagers dressed in ghetto chic, leaning on the pedestrian barriers outside a CD shop, was discussing their distaste for the charismatic church session that some of them missed the previous night.

The various churches were stunning, and their pastel-toned marble palette and architectural forms seemed to inspire the basis for other residential architecture. It was all very harmonious and clean-feeling, a mix of the medieval heritage of Siena and some of the functionality of Canberra. I was wrapt in the ornate frescos on the supporting arches in the Lower basilica of St Francis, and spent a very long time developing a much more solid appreciation of Giotto's contribution to western art in the Upper basilica. His monumental church is actually a very interesting place on many levels - it is literally two entirely differently concieved churches plonked on top of each other. One of those places where photos will show you what it looks like, but will never give you a feeling of moving towards and around it in real scale.

A real GT moment of the day, one of several, was watching a powerful sunset over the Umbrian fields and farmhouses, behind the Basilica of St Francis, accompanied by yet another friendly anonymous cat, and with a massive gold bar of hazelnut-filled dark chocolate aptly branded "Zanzibar".

But now it is bloody cold outside and I am looking forward to eating my fill of hot mushroom rissotto and a suprisingly good DCOG red, whose name eludes me for the moment.

Off to Rome tomorrow, via another Cathedral town, Orvieto.


  • At Sunday, November 20, 2005 9:39:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    G'day Sam,

    Any luck with a St Francis bottle opener? Eight hour transfers and Grandma death from Donnie Darko. Italy must be the country of endless history and suprises.

    DJ is out taking Assard for a walk. We have returned today from Sydney a weekend spend saying bon voyage to a great friend of mine who is soon to be away travelling for a year.

    DJ took the opportunity to catch up with her family a little. I took the opportunity to catch up with my younger brother Jordan and to see his student digs near UNSW.

    The new housemate arrives here this Wednesday.

    Keep exploring!
    DJ, T, A & L


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