Official Tourist Information Site
Municipality of Ravenna

Basilica of San Francesco

Piazza San Francesco, 1 - Ravenna
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Three naves, separated by 12 columns, and a square bell tower from the ninth century: this was the favourite church of the da Polenta family, who, also for this reason, chose it to celebrate the funeral of their distinguished guest, Dante Alighieri. The remains of the Supreme Poet, who died of malaria at the age of 56, were also temporarily buried in this church, inside a beautiful fifth-century sarcophagus located in the da Polenta family chapel. This chapel is arranged along the left-hand nave and enclosed by a fourteenth-century ogive.

Dante’s funeral was celebrated with pomp and circumstance, and to this day, thirteen bell strokes every day commemorate the night of his death, 13 September 1321.

The original building was erected in the fifth century as the Basilica degli Apostoli, commissioned by Bishop Neon, then later named after St Peter the Greater, and then from 1261 to 1810, and again between 1949 and today, the Franciscans chose it as their seat with the current name of St Francis.

However, little or nothing remains of the old church, although the Baroque superstructures were removed during the restoration of 1921 to restore its austere linearity, characteristic of the fourteenth century and more in keeping with the sensibilities of the Franciscan order.

Of particular beauty is the semicircular apse on the inside, and heptagonal on the outside, which due to subsidence appears today to be 3.5 metres lower than the most recent floor. Particularly striking is the tenth-century crypt, with its cross vault, mosaic and epigraph recalling the memory of Neon, whose bones are preserved in the basilica. Today the mosaic carpet is flooded and there are fish swimming in the pool.

The basilica also has three beautiful chapels dating back to the mid-1500s, along the right-hand nave: the first by the sculptor Tullio Lombardo, which also housed the statue of Guidarello now on display at the Museo d’Arte di Ravenna; a central chapel dedicated to St Anthony and the third dedicated to St Rocco, with a dome frescoed by Andrea Barbiani (1755) and a painting on canvas by Gaspare Sacchi (1517-1536).


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The crypt of the Basilica of San Francesco

In the Basilica of St. Francis, below the presbytery, there is a crypt dating back to the ninth-tenth century, reached by descending a double flight of stairs. Under the present altar, through a small arched window protected by a balustrade, it is possible to enjoy a spectacular view of the floor decorated with mosaics submerged by groundwater which, depending on the rainfall and sea level, varies in height.

This is not sea water, however, but filtered fresh water, as demonstrated by the dozens of goldfish swimming in the pool, an unmissable attraction for all children. Behind the window leading to the crypt is a small sarcophagus with the inscription “Ossa Neonis”, as Neon, bishop of Ravenna in the second half of the fifth century and commissioner of the early fifth century church dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul, on top of which the present basilica was built, was once buried here.

The crypt has a nave and two side aisles, and dates back to the same period as the first raising of the floor of the basilica which, until the seventeenth century, like many other churches in the city, was lower than the roadway. It was built maintaining the ancient floor of the presbytery in polychrome mosaic and adding a cross vault supported by four small columns with simple geometric capitals that today create a truly suggestive effect.

The mosaics adorning the floor are ancient and were restored in 1877: the first one even shows an inscription in Greek (the language spoken by Galla Placidia and Pietro Crisologo), which, translated, means: “The servants of God Esichio and Gemella have offered the church a section of mosaic floor”. A second epigraph, in Latin, commemorates the burial of Bishop Neon (451-459), successor of Peter Chrysologus. The epigraph in three hexameters refers to Neon’s tomb: “(Is) te locus sancti complectitur (ossa Neonis) (hui)us cana fides altum per saicula (caelum) possidet (et) totos gaudet secura p(er annos)”. Or: “This place contains the bones of the saint Neon. By his immaculate faith he has reached heaven forever and forever rejoices in peace”.

Between 1918 and 1921, the crypt was cleared of rubble and dividing walls, and completely restored. It is periodically emptied to allow the cleaning of the ancient floor mosaics and the collection of coins that tourists and locals throw into the water. Copper coins tend to oxidise and risk ruining the precious floor mosaics.

Further information

Opening times

From Monday to Friday: 7am – 12pm and 3pm – 6pm
Saturday and Sunday: 7am – 6pm

Entrance fee

Free admission

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 200m, coach park at 20m. Close to the Gardens of Provincia Palace, to Dante’s Tomb and Dante Museum.


The Basilica is accessible to disabled people both from the main and from the side entrance. No access to the Crypt.

A cura della Redazione Locale

Last edit:4 February 2021

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