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The ancient basilica of Emperor Theodoric is one of the most beautiful churches in Ravenna, both for its history and the mysteries that lie behind its walls.
First of all, its origin is not yet clear: until a few years ago it was supposed to be the “private” church of Theodoric and his court, given its proximity to the enigmatic palace.
The basilica, in fact, was built in the fifth century by Theodoric and decorated according to Aryan standards. To this period belong the mosaics of the church, that have been changed during the conversion to the Catholic worship in the seventh century.
There are some bizarre elements who remember it: can you see the hands on the columns of the palace of Theodoric? That's what we are talking about! In the conversion to the Catholic worship many Aryan elements - such as references to the emperor and his court - were removed or "corrected".
Th processions represented on both sides of the nave were initially processions of the courtiers of Theodoric, then transformed into martyrs and virgins with the inclusion of names and golden crowns.
The church was dedicated to Saint Apollinaris - first bishop of Ravenna -for the presence of his relics transported here from Sant'Apollinare in Classe in the ninth century.
The presence of various decorative styles will call your attention: the original mosaics of the fifth century are next to the sixteeth-century coffered ceiling and baroque decorations which were concealed in the 50s and have recently returned visible.
However the basilica is famous for the very well preserved mosaic decorations.
Above the columns, on three levels, there is the longest mosaic cycle of antiquity that starts with the representation of the port of Classe and the palace of Theodoric on the opposite side. Then there are the processions of martyrs and virgins who, as we said, originally represented the court of Theodoric. The processions culminate towards the apse with the representation of Christ on one side and the Three Kings who bring gifts to the baby Jesus and Mary on the other.
Above we find the representation of saints and prophets, while in the highest level we can see scenes from the life of Christ, some of the best preserved in the world.
They are not easy to discern and contextualize because of the height they are placed ( to better appreciate them it would be useful to have a pair of binoculars or a zoom) but they are beautiful and enrich the decoration with many details.
Sant'Apollinare Nuovo is a church that more than others tells of the passage of time, the changing of populations, cults, styles, in a continuous process of fusion and enrichment.
How to get there
By car: the church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo is in Via di Roma, in the city center. The closest parking lots are in Piazza Mameli and at Mar Museum
By bus/on foot: the church is 5 minutes walk far from the railway station where all the bus lines stop.