The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minorcommonly known as the Franciscan Orderin Assisi, Italy, the city where St. Francis was born and died. The basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. With its accompanying friary, the basilica is a distinctive landmark to those approaching Assisi. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
The basilica, which was begun in 1228, is built into the side of a hill and comprises two churches known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church, and a crypt where the remains of the saint are interred. The interior of the Upper Church is an important early example of the Gothic style in Italy. The Upper and Lower Churches are decorated with frescoes by numerous late medieval painters from the Roman and Tuscan schools, and include works by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti and possibly Pietro Cavallini. The range and quality of the works gives the basilica a unique importance in demonstrating the development of Italian art of this period.
The basilica was designed by a follower of St. Francis, Brother Elia Bombadone. The construction may have commenced before the official laying of the foundation stone. (see above History). The Basilica was designed on two levels, each of which is consecrated as a church. They are known as the "Basilica superiore" (The Upper Basilica), generally called "The Upper Church" and the "Basilica inferiore" (The Lower Basilica), generally called "The Lower Church". The Lower Church was structurally a large crypt supporting the upper one. In the 19th century a lower crypt was constructed beneath the basilica. Architecturally, the exterior of the basilica appears united with the Friary of St. Francis, since the lofty arcades of the latter support and buttress the church in its apparently precarious position on the hillside.
The architecture is a synthesis of the Romanesque and Gothic styles, and established many of the typical characteristics of Italian Gothic architecture. As originally built, both upper and lower churches had a simple cruciform plan with an aisless nave of four square bays, a square crossing, a transept that projected by half a bay one each side, and an apse, the lower being semicircular and the upper polygonal. To the left of the church stands a free-standing bell tower of Romanesque design.