The Temple of Minerva is an ancient Roman building in Assisi, Umbria, central Italy. The only part left from the ancient Roman times is the exterior façade of the original Minerva Temple. In the 16th century, then, the temple was converted to a church called Santa Maria sopra Minerva. This explains why the interior of the church is kept in baroque style. The contrast between the ancient temple and the baroque Christian architecture is utterly impressive and definitely worth a look.
The Temple of Minerva is considered the most significant relict from the Roman Empire and is nowadays a UNESCO world heritage site.
The construction process of the Temple of Minerva
The temple was built by Gnaeus Cesius in the 1st century before Christ. Originally, it was not dedicated to Minerva but to Hercules. Only later, a statue of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, was placed in the temple. Just in front of the temple the Forum Romanum was sited, the centre of public life in the Roman town Asisium.
Conversion to the church San Donato
As Christianity was gradually gaining more influence, the temple was at the same time abandoned as a place of worship for Roman gods. Benedictine monks took over in the 6th century and restored the entire building. The interior was subdivided into two floors. The living space was upstairs, whereas the ground floor was used as a church, dedicated to St. Donato. In the 13th century, then, the monks took the decision to let the temple to the city of Assisi, which was using the premises as prison and administration building at the same time. In 1456 the church of San Donato was re-opened.
Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Pope Paul III had the temple entirely renovated, afterwards converted to St. Mary's church in 1539 and renamed to Santa Maria sopra Minerva. In 1613 the church became part of the third order of St. Francis. The monks regularly held worshipping services in the church and had the interior redesigned in baroque style.
How to get there
You may pilgrim to Assisi on foot using the way of St. Francis. The leg to Assisi begins in Valfabbrica. Starting in the Via San Benedetto, you follow the signs “Via di Francesco” to Assisi.
Coming from Perugia, you first take the Raccordo Autostradale 6 Bettolle/ Perugia. At the intersection, you turn left and then follow the signs “Assisi/ Foligno/ E45/ Cesena and continue on E45/ SS3. Taking the exit at Foligno, you carry on in the direction of Assisi/ Spoleto/ Aeroporto and then SS75. Exiting at Assisi-S.M. degli Angeli Sud, then, you continue straight towards Assisi.