Sculptures on Assisi rooftops

December 14, 2012 / Local Interest
Assisi, Umbria
Assisi chimney cluster

As you stroll Assisi – and many other medieval hill towns – walk “bi-focally”: one eye down to watch your footing, one eye up to take in the masterpieces on the terracotta-tiled rooftops: the chimneys. Bricks and terracotta roof tiles merge together in veritable sculpture art works. Who built them? Stonemasons, many with very little formal schooling – and only “on-the-job” training.

Assisi chimneyIt takes skill to build a fireplace which draws well, sending the smoke right up the chimney, rather than in billowing gray clouds into the living room. Just imagine: the chimneys standing proudly on Assisi rooftops are outlets for well-built fireplaces in the houses below – yet each one is a mini-architectural masterpiece in its own right. On the classic Assisi chimney, roof tiles meet in a point, like the Cappucin monks’ hoods; after all, this is the town of San Francesco. Other chimneys seem to be mini-chalets with sloped roofs or bell towers; now and then, an Assisi chimney flaunts a whimsical Byzantine motif.

Antennae or satellite discs flank many chimneys: the modern meets the ancient. Next to the chimneys, you often see the pipe of a wood-burning stove, wisps of smoke spiraling upwards from the top now that the weather has turned crispy cold.

As fuel costs soar, wood is back; fire has been re-invented. The signs are clear: the artistic chimneys and the wood stove pipes topping medieval hill town rooftops are smoking these days.

Chimneys and woodstove pipes top Assisi rooftops

Chimneys can be perches for doves
Almost a Byzantine feel to this woodstove outletPG
A tall chimney stands proudly
A chimney stands tall before the 14th-c fortress
Medieval belltower flanks Assisi chimneys

Assisi chimney stands tall like the nearby cypress trees

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

21 Responses to “Sculptures on Assisi rooftops”

  1. Michael Yaccino

    A few years ago I spent 8 weeks in Trento. Our apartment was on the 4th floor with an atrium overlooking the city on the 5th. The atrium with floor to roof windows was the only place that I was able to get a strong WiFi signal. I spent a lot of time there. As a bonus I was able to watch from across the street and from above an entire roof being reworked. From the removal of the old terracotta to the final touches of the cap over the chimney. It was so interesting that I documented the process.

  2. Beautiful photos, Anne. I also enjoyed the story regarding the chimneys. I love “your” town and look forward to visiting it again. Buon Natale e Buon Capodanno!


  3. Angela Finch

    Thank you for drawing my attention to an architectural feature I may well have missed.

  4. Roberto Limone

    Up on the rooftop, Ho, Ho, Ho.

    On my visits to Assisi my sights have been
    aimed too low. Thanks Anne.

    Bob Lemon

  5. Nancy Mazza

    Hi Annie,

    You notice the most interesting things. Thanks for pointing out the chimneys and for telling their history. I enjoyed the article and will look at the world of rooftops differently now.



  6. This is a great article. Stonework is amazing, combining technical expertise, artistry, and sometimes whimsy (think gargoyles). Thankfully I am seeing more and more precisely wrought stone walls in New England. The old ramblers are fine, but less and less often did you see anyone creating a truly elegant and well-fitting wall.
    When I travel, a favorite photo subject is chimney tops in different countries. I also like stone walls and roof details. I haven’t seen many stone houses in person but want to. The June 17, 2011 edition of the Notebook points us to the village of Alberobello in Puglia. Absolutely fascinating. Speaking of walls, in Wales I was told that the tops of their walls are precisely 5’6″ high because that’s the point at which sheep can no longer jump and clear the wall. The tops are grimly positioned vertical slabs. The trial-and-error process for determining that 5’6″ doesn’t bear close scrutiny.

  7. Tom Calvano

    Another well written piece by Ann.
    Thank you Ann. I appreciate your articles as I am an avid fan of Italy and the culture.

  8. Mary Cappiello

    Thanks for pointing my gaze to new heights when visiting the Italian hill towns, Anne! Your pictures are wonderfully explanatory, too, as usual.

  9. Nice piece on chimneys. When I was in Venice I was fascinated by the huge chimneys of the old palazzi, there seems to be a real Venetian style which you don’t see anywhere else in Italy.

  10. Suzanne and Jack

    Thank you for drawing our attentions to the rooftops of Assisi. I will take special notice when we are there in May. Another wonderful article Anne where you manage to weave the whimsical, the beautiful and the practical of your Umbria.

  11. Anne,
    Both article were a good read. I loved the pictures of the chimneys and your old wood stove! I look forward to having a stroll in Assisi with my head cocked towards the sky.
    Well done…

  12. We’ve often visited Assisi and the chimney’s have always caught my attention. They are works of art in and of themselves! I also found the wrought iron work equally beautiful. Wonderful article Anne. Grazie molto.

  13. How often I walked by chimneys and didnt appreciate their unique beauty! You had me revisiting my pictures of Assisi– I have so many pictures of rooftops, and now see how beautifully made each chimney is. Love these!! Great article :)

  14. Art and form meet function…ah, one of the many things I love about Italy! Every where one looks is another artistic touch. It teaches us to slow down, pay attention to and appreciate the many details all around us..thank you for sharing!

  15. Christine

    Gorgous article ,gorgeous photos.Goes to show just how much more beauty and meaning there is in these superb towns if we just pay a bit more attention.Many thanks Anne – will definitely be looking up a lot more!

  16. Greatly enjoyed these photos! I relished many views over the rooftops while there in September, but somehow did not focus on
    the craftsmanship of the chimneys! I just purchased my airline ticket today, and am looking forward to my stay in Il Nido
    Tranquillo this spring……and paying special attention to these added rooftop features!

  17. Stephanie

    I love the photos! And your stories always make things so much more meaningful. The last time I was in Assisi I stayed in a nice little hotel that had a balcony where I could overlook all those beautiful rooftops. I always marvel at the craftsmanship that went into constructing such beautiful stone structures. I never tire of gazing out at these Umbrian medieval towns. Thanks for making Italy so special!


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