Photo of Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna

Visit Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna

The Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe is one of several important monuments in Ravenna in north-east Italy, listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites and best known for their byzantine mosaics.

Note: unlke the other monuments, which are within walking distance of the town centre, the Basilica of Sant-Apollinaire is several kilometres outside Ravenna town centre - you can get there by bus if you do not have a car.

Discover the Basilica of Sant-Apollinare in Classe

Italy This Way review: this impressive basilica is one of our favourites of the monuments in Ravenna, with its long nave of arches and its beautiful mosaics, and a visit is recommended

main nave of the basilica of Sant'Apollinaire

The basilica was built on the site of the burial of Sant Apollinaris, the patron saint of Ravenna, was commanded by the Bishop Ursicinus in the first half of the 6th century around the year 532 AD and consecrated in 549 AD. It was built next to an ancient pagan cemeter, and next to the sea - because of silt, the sea is now several kilometres to the east from here.

From the outside, the basilica has a simple appearance of a red brick structure. To the front there is a porch across the entire width of the basilica, with a row of roman style arches (added later than the original basilica). Above the porch, in the facade of the basilica you can see a mullion window with three openings.

To the left of the church you can see the round belltower, the lower part built in the 10th century and the upper part, with rows of windows, added in the 11th century.

Inside, the basilica of Sant'Apollnaire has a long main nave and two side naves, separated by rows of marble columns and capital stones creating roman style arches. Above these there are pictures of archbishops from the city, added in the 18th century, below a row of roman style windows that allow light into the body of the church.

This description perhaps sounds like many other churches, but in fact the slender columns in the basilica of Sant-Apollinaire, the pictures and the decoration make it quite unlike any church we have seen, and quite beautiful...

...although it is a shame that the marble decorations that originally covered these walls are no longer in existence, having been removed by the Venetians in the 15th century to decorate a church in Rimini after this basilica had been abandoned - the monks relocated to a basilica in the centre of Ravenna.

In the side naves you can see several sarcophagi from the 5th century to the 8th century, with the oldest decorated by relief carvings of figures, and the later examples decorated wih carvings of symbols. There are two places in the nave where you can see part of the mosaics that originally covered the entire floor of the church.


Mosaics of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare

The principal mosaics in the half dome show the hand of God at the top, in the clouds, with Moses and Elijah, as well as three sheep that represent three of the apostles: Peter, Paul and John and symbols of the four evangelists

In the centre of this part of the mosaic there is a large cross, covered with jewels and with the face of Christ at the centre. Below we can see a mosaic of Saint Apollinaris: this is very unusual, it is much more common to see the figure of Christ at the centre of these mosaics, rather than a saint, and this is the first church where this subsitution took place.

At the feet of Saint Apollinaris we can see 12 sheep, that represent his followers, in a landscape of meadow, trees and rocks.

Further mosaics can be seen in the arch around the entrance to the apse, added between the 6th and 8th centuries, and between the arches you can see the figures of the four bishops who had founded basilicas in Ravenna.

sheep and pastoral countryside in the mosaics of Sant'Apollinare

Note: perhaps becaus of its location, entrance to the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe is not included in the 'combined tocket' that allows access to most of the monuments in Ravenna, and you need to pay around 5 euros to enter.

Attractions nearby

Wthout doubt, you wll be in Ravenna to visit several of the monuments decorated wth byzantine mosaics: see the Ravenna guide for information about these and other sites of interest in the town.

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

See also: 

Photos of Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna

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Map of Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna and places to visit


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