Temple of Minerva (Tempio di Minerva)
Long before Saint Francis was born in Assisi, ancient Romans inhabited Asisium, as the town was known for millennia. A striking testimony to these Roman roots is the handsome Temple of Minerva, which has the most intact Roman temple facade in Italy and is a must for Roman architecture enthusiasts.
The focal point of Assisi’s main Piazza del Comune, the first-century-BC Temple of Minerva was built with private donations from two wealthy local residents during the reign of Augustus. Today, the temple’s original Corinthian columns and pediment form the façade of the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (St. Mary Above Minerva), with baroque interiors by local architect Giacomo Giorgetti. Walking tours of Assisi’s historic center include the town’s most important Franciscan sites as well as its historical landmarks, including the central Piazza del Comune constructed on top of the ancient Roman Forum and the Temple of Minerva. Assisi is a popular day trip from Rome and Florence, and guided tours generally also include stops in the cities of Orvieto or Perugia and along Lake Trasimeno.
Things to know before you go
- The square is accessible to wheelchairs, though the original Roman steps of the temple’s portico are still intact and there is no ramp into the church.
- Walking tours require a significant amount of time on your feet, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather.
- Though a Roman temple outside, inside is a place of worship requiring modest clothing and appropriate decorum.
- This almost perfectly preserved Roman temple makes for unforgettable photographs.
How to get there
The Temple of Minerva is in Assisi’s main Piazza del Comune, about a ten-minute walk from the Basilica of Saint Francis. Assisi is an important pilgrimage destination, and there are direct trains from Rome and Florence.
When to get there
In early May of each year, Assisi holds an important medieval festival in the Piazza del Comune against the backdrop of the temple. Visit during the festival to experience the town’s lighthearted spirit, or on the feast day of Saint Francis (October 4th) for its more solemn side.
The Complicated History of Assisi’s Roman Temple
When Rome converted to Christianity in the fourth century AD, the pagan temple—along with many others throughout the empire—fell out of use and was abandoned. By the sixth century, a community of Benedictine monks had requisitioned the temple, which was used as a municipal building and jail until being converted into a Catholic church in the mid-16th century. The temple was rededicated to the Virgin Mary by Pope Paolo III and subsequently restored before being given over to a community of Franciscan friars.
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