Originally dedicated to the Apostles and later to Saint Peter, the construction of the Basilica of San Francesco goes back to the mid-5th century AD. However, very little remains of the early Christian church, because of the frequent reconstructions that have modified the original shape of the building over time, until the radical changes of the late 18th century (for instance, the solid square bell tower dates back to the 9th/10th century).
The Basilica owes its name to the Franciscan friars Minors who inhabited it between 1261 and 1810, and later again from 1949 up to the present day. In the Middle Ages, San Francesco was the favourite church of Polentani family, who ruled the city of Ravenna and was the host of Dante Alighieri. Consequently, the poet himself was probably a regular visitor of this church, where his funeral was celebrated in 1321. His mortal remains now rest in the nearby Dante’s Tomb.
As happened to most of the churches in Ravenna, the Basilica was many times superelevated. The original floor level is now situated 3.6m below street level.
From the outside, the church looks very neat. Its façade is made of plain bricks animated only by a tiny central mullioned window. In the interior of the basilica – divided into a nave and two side aisles – a 10th century crypt propped up by small pilasters is still visible through a window situated under the altar, that contains a 5th century sarcophagus. The oratory-shaped crypt was intended for the conservation of bishop Neon’s relics, founder of the church.
The crypt floor is now permanently under water and yet it is still possible to catch glimpse of the mosaic fragments that used to decorate the floor of the original church.
Daily: 8.30am - 12pm / 3.30pm - 7pm. During the summer, it is highly recommended to visit the church either early in the morning or at sunset. Visits are suspended during holy masses (holiday hours: 10am, 11.15am and 6pm, this last is celebrated on Saturdays too).
The Basilica is accessible to disabled people both from the main and from the side entrance. No access to the Crypt.
How to get there
The basilica is situated in the controlled traffic zone of the city centre. Bus stop 20 m away (all bus routes), car park at 100m, coach park at 20m. Close to the Gardens of Provincia Palace, to Dante's Tomb and Dante Museum.
Edited by the editorial team
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Last modified date: 14/03/2016