Photo of Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna

Visit Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna

The Basilica of San Domenico is a church in the centre of Bologna in north-east Italy - it is one of the most important churches in the town. The basilica is a short dstance south of the historic centre, along Via Garibaldi.

Discover the Basilica of San Domenico

Italy This Way review: the Basilica of San Domenico is a very large basilica, with a good number of interesting historic features and artworks, and we recommend you visit as part of your tour of Bologna

Saint Domenico preached and later died in a church that stood in the same location as the basilica in 1221. The church attracted many pilgrims because of this history.

Choir and stalls in the Basilica San Domenico

History of the basilica of San Domenico

The current basilica was built soon after the death of Saint Domenico because the church was too small for the number of worshippers.

The 51 metre high belltower was added in the early 14th century, and the side chapels were added in the 15th century. The original church had been divided into two separate churches, one for the visitors and one for the friars, but this division was removed in the 17th century.

The most recent large change to the structure was in the 18th century, when the interior was entirely redecorated in the baroque style. Hence, the basilica we see today is broadly the same in form from the outside as the original church, but the inside is quite different.

The basilica today

There is a tall column with a statue of San Domenico in front of the basilica, and two monuments with the tombs of Pisa dignatories in the same piazza. As is often the case with churches in Italy, a rather austere red brick facade with a rose window gives little clue how impressive the interior is.

The nave is not particularly noteworthy, with rows of simple marble columns separating the nave from the side naves, but the dome and half dome above the transept, with beautiful paintings and a series of windows to allow light to enter the basilica, is very impressive.

domes in the ceiling of Basilica of San Domenico

Around the edges of the basilica of San Domenico there are numerous painted chapels, frescoes and other impressive artworks, several by renowned artists.

As well as the Chapel of San Domenico (see Arca di San Domenico below), the Rosary Chapel is another very imposing chapel: these side chapels are more imposing than the main altar, and there are more than 10 of these chapels altogether.

Another important highlight is the choir area, behind the main altar. Here, there are 102 stalls, each beautifully carved with figures in the renaissance style by a Dominican friar in the 16th century.

Behind each stall there is a panel of wood, each inlaid with a picture in marquetry of a story from the Bible - on the left side you can see pictures from the New Testament and on the right side there are stories from the Old Testament. These were made by the same Dominican Friar, working with his brother.

While these panels might not merit the accolade "8th wonder of the world" that they were once given, they are very impressive and each panel is interesting to examine in detail - although you will need a lot of time to carefully examine 102 pictures!


Arca di San Domenico

The Arca di San Domenico is a beautiful shrine that contains the remains of San Domenico, and is in the chapel of the same name (the chapel is also covered with frescoes and has a large painted dome, not the small structure that the word chapel evokes).

The Arca was started by the artist Nicola Pisano (he also designed the pulpit in the baptistery in Pisa and the pulpit in Siena cathedral) although it was added to and altered at various times over the following five centuries by artists including Michelangelo.

The sarcophagus - the main part of the Arca - has six carved marble panels, that together relate the important stories from the life of San Domenico such as the resurrection of Napoleone Orsini, San Domenico preaching against the cathars in France , and angels bringing bread to the friars.

The marble cornice above the sarcophagus was made by Niccolò da Puglia, who aso made the remarkable Lamentation of Christ in the Church of Santa Maria della Vita.

Above and below the sarcophagus there are further marble statues and reliefs, some full size, and the ensemble is very impressive - take some time to look at the individual carvings to appreciate just how impressive they are.

Arca di San Domenico

There are many artworks to be seeen in the basilica and more in the museum in the same building. These include the Crucifixon by Pisano and the Marriage of Saint Catherine by Filippino Lippi among the most highly regarded.

Attractions nearby

To discover the other attractions and monuments in the city see the Bologna guide.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Emilia-Romagna guide.

See also: 

Photos of Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna

Click any picture to start the gallery

  • altar (1)
  • altar (2)
  • altar (3)
  • ceiling-domes (1)
  • ceiling-domes (2)
  • ceiling-domes (3)
  • ceiling-domes (4)
  • choir
  • cloisters (1)
  • cloisters (2)
  • cloisters (3)
  • exterior (2)
  • exterior (3)
  • fresco
  • nave
  • stalls
  • woodcarvings

Map of Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna and places to visit


Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna places to visit

Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio

Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio

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Basilica San Petronio, Bologna

Basilica San Petronio, Bologna

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Basilica San Petronio, Bologna guide
Santo Stefano church, Bologna

Santo Stefano church, Bologna

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Santo Stefano church, Bologna guide
Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna

Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna

The Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita includes a very impressive baroque church and a remarkable 15th century Lamentation of Christ artwork

Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna guide
Basilica of Saints Bartholomew and Gaetano in Bologna

Basilica of Saints Bartholomew and Gaetano in Bologna

The basilica of saint bartholomew and saint gaetano is a renaissance style minor basilica in the historic centre of Bologna

Basilica of Saints Bartholomew and Gaetano in Bologna guide
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The Two Towers in Bologna are two of the most imposing medieval towers remaining in the city

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