Sant Apollinare Nuovo

The Ravenna Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo is one of the eight early Christian structures in the city that comprise the most important Ravenna attractions and are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was built in the early sixth century and is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, as is another of the World Heritage Site churches, Sant’Apollinare in Classe. The relics of the saint were moved here from the basilica in Classe to protect them from pirates plying the Adriatic Sea. While many of the original mosaics were removed or blacked out in the sixteenth century (they were said to detract from devout worship) the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo is famous for the remaining mosaics on its two lateral walls.

The Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo was built by the Emperor Theodosius in the early sixth century, and converted into a Catholic church around 560. UNESCO states that: "Both the exterior and the interior of the basilica graphically illustrate the fusion between the Western and Eastern styles characteristic of the late 5th - early 6th century. This is one of the most important buildings from this period of crucial cultural significance in European religious art." Two of the eight UNESCO sites in Ravenna are mausoleums, including the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the Mausoleum of Theodosius. Each one of the others is a Ravenna basilica that boasts extraordinary examples of mosaic art.

The exterior of this Ravenna basilica is simple, although the structure itself is quite large and imposing, and made of modest brick. The entrance to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo is a more modern marble portico with a colonnade dating to the sixteenth century. Next to that is a bell tower from the ninth or tenth century that is similar to (but a little less ornate) than the famous Tower of Pisa.

The history of the most famous mosaics (25 in all, all depicting scenes for the life of Christ) stretches back to the original structure and the sixth century. These are the Biblical mosaics, and are all untouched and original except for two. The Healing of the Paralytic was restored after bomb damage in World War I. The Miracle at Cana was rather poorly restored during the 1800s. These Sant’Apollinare Nuovo mosaics also illustrate the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, and the Raising of Lazarus, among other miracles from the New Testament. One contains mosaics from the Passion and the Resurrection—including the Last Supper, the Kiss of Judas and Arrest of Christ, Pilate Washing his Hands, Doubting Thomas, and the Via Dolorasa (a real street that exists today in the city of Jerusalem). Other notable mosaics depict processions of prophets and saints, each with haloes, unique faces, and features.

The Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo is within walking distance of the Venetian central Piazza del Popolo, as are six of the other UNESCO designated structures. The eighth is the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, which is about four miles south of the city center. There is a fee to enter the church (fairly steep if you plan on visiting all eight UNESCO structures), but it is possible to purchase a combo ticket that provides entry to all at a much more attractive price. These also include the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Mausoleum of Theodisius, the Nonian Baptistry, the Arian Baptistry, the Archepiscopal Chapel, and the Church of San Vitale.

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