The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is no doubt one of Assisi’s major attractions; yet, how many know of or venture along the nearby trails and woods where Francis himself, and his friars, walked in nature and dedicated themselves to contemplation. It is here, behind the Basilica, that FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano, has restored and opened to the public an area which they called Bosco di San Francesco, where you can experience nature in a true Franciscan spirit, a spirit of communion and harmony.
When the no-profit organization dedicated to preserving Italy’s national heritage took on the project, the trail that from the Basilica of San Francesco leads to the Benedictine complex of Santa Croce, where nuns used to live, was bumpy and interrupted by a landslide; the surrounding forest had overgrown after years of neglect; and the buildings that made up the complex, including a monastery, a hospital, a 13th-century church, a bridge, a 12th-century mill, and a tower-factory, were mostly run down.
Thanks to FAI’s expertise in restoration projects, the area was brought back to fruition. A trail was put in place leading from the Piazza della Basilica Superiore to the Santa Croce complex, up the valley of the Tescio to the clearing of the so-called Terzo Paradiso (Third Heaven, a land art work by contemporary artist Michelangelo Pistoletto featuring 121 olive trees arranged in two rows); and back along the opposite bank of the stream toward the mill.
The former nun quarters have been restructured to house a reception area and information point for visitors, complete with bookshop and educational exhibit; the mill has been converted into a refreshment point for Bosco visitors. Inside the church, the fresco depicting the Adoration of the Naked Cross (1643), attributed to Assisi painter Girolamo Marinelli, was restored and its vivid colors brought back to light.
Fig, nut and other fruit trees have been planted to evoke the lost garden of the Benedictine nuns, making the 64 hectares of the Bosco a precious example of an Italian rural landscape.
Intrigued? Watch the video below.