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Photo of Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna

Visit Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna

The Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna is one of several important historic monuments, together listed as world heritage sites, in the city of Ravenna in north-east Italy. It is on Via di Roma in the heart of the city centre.

Discover the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna

Italy This Way review: although the mosaics in the apse have been lost, the decoration in the nave of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna is exceptional and you should include the basilica on your tour of the monuments of Ravenna

The basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovao was built as an Arian churh (the Arians were a branch of Christians who believed Christ only became the son of God after he was baptised) in the first decade of the 6th century by a King of the Ostrogoths, called Theodoric the Great. It was originally part of a much larger complex - Theodoric had a palace adjacent to the current basilica, which was the chapel for the palace.

Exterior of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna

By the second half of the 6th century, the byzantines had taken control of Ravenna, under the Emperor Justinian. The byzantines did not support the Arian faith, and the basilica became Christian, dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, an enemy of the Arians.

The byzantines considered several of the mosaics in the apse to be too Arian, so they were in part removed after the invasion, while those on the walls of the nave were allowed to remain. The remaining mosaics in the apse were replaced in the 16th centry with the paintings we see today.

It was in the 9th century that the basilica gained its current name, after the nearby basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe became too dangerous for the monks because of attacks by Saracen pirates, and they brought the relics of Saint Apollinare to this church (hence the name 'Nuovo' for a 6th century basilica that is actually older than the basilica it replaced!).

From the exterior, the basilica is quite simple in design, with a red brick facade only interrupted by a small mullioned window. There is a porch (added in the 16th century) across the entire width of the basilica. To the right, a slender belltower with multiple rows of windows was added in the 10th century and adds interest to the exterior.

Inside the basilica there is a large open nave, rather like a grand dining hall in a medieval castle, that leads to the apse and is separated from the small side naves by rows of slender marble columns with carved capital stones, and a row of windows on each side of the nave. These columns were brought here from Constantinople.

The ceiling above the nave is flat and beautifully decorated with painted wooden panels.

 
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Mosaics of the basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

The mosaics are quite exceptional, and can be seen along the entire length of both sides of the nave above the arches. Both sides follow a similar design, with long rows of people from end to end of the nave, and further characters between the windows at the next level, and then an additional series of mosaics at the upper level.

The lower level was actually completed several decades after the other mosaics, and each side has a long row of individuals, with the Magi leading a procession of Virgins from the port (complete with sailing boats) to a Madonna and child on the left, and a long procession of martyrs being led by Saint Martin from the Palace of Theodoric to a group that includes Christ and four angels on the right.

The mosaic of the Palace of Theodoric was altered at the end of the 6th century to remove the mosaics of Theodoric and his retenue: these were replaced with dark areas and curtains, although hands from the original mosaics still remain on the columns across the front of the palace...

I thought the procession of Virgins very interesting, despite the 1500 years that have elapsed since the mosaic was completed, the women could almost be our contemporaries giving this mosaic a very human appeal.

The mosaics above these show prophets, saints and evangelists. There are 16 of these along each side of the church, dressed in fine robes - the Roman tradition is clear - and carryng scrolls. Each of these is separated by an arched window.

The pictures at the top level of each side represent stories from the New Testament of the miracles performed by Christ on the left and stories from the Passon and the Resurrection on the right. One interesting characteristic, young Jesus is shown without a beard, while in the later events he is shown with a beard: this is probably because different artists were used for the different sections..

It is said that this is the most ancient series of stories from the New Testament still in existence.

View along the nave in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

Attractions nearby

The Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna is one of several byzantine and early Christian monuments in Ravenna, including the Arian Baptistery, the other monument here that is from the Arian period. See the Ravenna guide for details of all these sites as well as other highlights in the town, such as the tomb of Dante.

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

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Photos of Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna

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

 
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Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna places to visit

Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna

Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna

The Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna is a 10th century church where the funeral of Dante took place

Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna guide
Rasponi Crypt and gardens in Ravenna

Rasponi Crypt and gardens in Ravenna

The Rasponi crypt is the underground chapel of an 18th century palace, next to a large courtyard garden

Rasponi Crypt and gardens in Ravenna guide
Dante's Tomb in Ravenna

Dante's Tomb in Ravenna

The Tomb of Dznte is the final resting place of the great 13th century poet, Dante Alighieri

Dante's Tomb in Ravenna guide
Ravenna

Ravenna

Ravenna is world famous because of the exceptional mosaics and several 6th century churches in the city

Ravenna guide
Ravenna Arian Baptistery

Ravenna Arian Baptistery

The Arian baptistery in Ravenna was built in the 5th century and retains its original mosaic ceiling in the dome

Ravenna Arian Baptistery guide
Archbishop's Chapel in Ravenna

Archbishop's Chapel in Ravenna

The Archbishop's Chapel in Ravenna is a tiny 6th century chapel decorated with byzantine mosaics

Archbishop's Chapel in Ravenna guide

...or see all our recommended places to visit in Emilia-Romagna

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