Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Emilia Romagna, Italy

Situated 5km outside Ravenna, along the state road leading to Rimini, this wonderful Byzanthine basilica, a World Heritage site, is the only building left of the Roman town of Classis, the ancient port of Ravenna.
Sant'Apollinare in Classe - Emilia Romagna The basilica rises in a site of great environmental beauty, having to the south the Classe pinewood that reaches the sea, a Mediterranean landscape that appears in the poetry of Dante Alighieri and Lord Byron. It was consecrated in 546 AD by archbishop Maximianus, and was dedicated to the first bishop of Ravenna whose relics of however were transferred in 856 AD to the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna.

The outside

The facade has a porch in front, under which are inscriptions and marbles, relics of a pre-existent pagan cemetery which was on the site of the basilica. It is sided by a beautiful round belltower of the 9th century AD, with many tiers of windows.

The inside

It is divided into three naves, separated by arcades supported by 24 columns with refined Byzantine capitals. In the side naves are tombs of the earliest times of the Christian era, and a rich ciborium of the 11th century. The presbyterium is on a higher level, as it was usual in the early Middle Ages to separate the faithful who had not yet been baptised, and is covered of 6th and 6th century mosaics, the most impressive of them an allegory of the Transfiguration of Christ in the vault of the apse. Below the church is a crypt of the 9th century.

The mosaic in the apse

At the top Christ is represented inside a medallion, and amid symbolic clouds the symbols of the 4 gospel-writers: an Eagle for John, a Winged Man for Matthew, a Lion for Mark and a Calf for Luke. Immediately below one at each side are Jerusalem and Bethlehem, with walls covered with jewels, and 12 lambs symbolising the apostles coming out of them. Still below, are a palm tree on each side, symbol of Justice, and the figures of archangels Michael and Gabriel on one side, Matthew and another saint on the other.

The mosaic decorating the round vault is highly symbolic, it was made in the 6th century and can be divided into an upper and a lower part. In the upper section there is a huge cross in a starred sky, with Christ's face in the centre. Above the cross God's hand comes out of the clouds, and at the sides of the cross are the figures of Elias and Moses. Three lambs below the cross represent the apostles Peter, James and John. In the lower section a wide green valley is represented, with flowers, bushes, trees and birds, and in the centre Saint Apollinaire, with open arms in the attitude of praying for the 12 lambs around him, the faithful of whom he is the shepherd.

More info on the city of Ravenna