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Slowly, Italy’s revered city of Assisi shows vital signs after quake

December 9, 1997

ASSISI, Italy (AP) _ The revered city of Assisi, deeply wounded by earthquakes 10 weeks ago, is crawling back to life.

A sunny holiday Monday brought the first crowds back into the city’s streets since back-to-back quakes on Sept. 26 damaged many monuments associated with St. Francis of Assisi, especially the basilica named after him.

As the threat of aftershocks recedes, the less damaged sites are re-opening.

St. Mary of the Angels, which houses the chapel where Francis founded the Franciscan order, starting receiving visitors Monday. One part of the Basilica of St. Francis, with its precious early Renaissance frescoes, opened a week ago. Also open are the Hermitage of the Carceri and St. Damian sanctuary.

But churches named after saints Clare, Peter and Rufino are too damaged to accept visitors and are closed, along with the town’s picture gallery. About one-third of the Assisi’s 2,500 residents have been forced to leave their homes because of quake damage. Hotels function, though guests are scarce.

But city officials and officials of the Franciscan order sought to put the best face on Assisi at a ceremony Monday to publicize a pre-quake project to repave the lower basilica’s public square with stones from around the world.

``Assisi, thanks to the help of everyone, is rising again,″ Mayor Giorgio Bartolini said.

With more than 4 million visitors a year, tourism is the lifeblood of Assisi.

Meanwhile, work goes on to repair the upper portion of St. Francis’s basilica, the focus of quake damage. Two triangular sections of ceiling with frescoes by early Renaissance master Cimabue and followers of Giotto crashed to the floor when the temblor struck, killing four of the quakes’ 10 victims.

Rubble still lay near the altar Monday. Sheets of Styrofoam and mattresses were spread on the floor to limit the damage in case of another collapse. A scaffolding to buttress the ceiling should be in place by January, said the Rev. Nicola Giandomenico, a spokesman for the order. Workers are applying a resin to the stones forming the ceiling to secure the frescoes on it.

Architects and restorers hope to have detailed plans for structural reinforcement and restoration of the ceiling ready by the spring, he said. The goal is throw open the upper basilica’s doors by Oct. 4, 1999, St. Francis’s feast day, and in time for the year 2000 Jubilee celebrations marking Christianity’s third millennium.

Outside on Monday, the holiday of the Immaculate Conception, visitors milled around the city’s streets.

``We thought it would be more tragic,″ 54-year-old Rinaldo Msellati, who came for the day from Rome.

``But the people here have a lot of work to do. We feel close to them,″ he said.

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