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Municipality of Ravenna

Basilica of San Francesco

Piazza San Francesco, 1 - Ravenna
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Right in the heart of the Zone of Silence and just behind Dante’s tomb, stands one of the most wonderful basilicas in Ravenna, at least according to its citizens.

Built in Romanesque style, during the Middle Ages the BASILICA OF SAN FRANCESCO was the Da Polenta’s family – lords of the city hosting Dante Alighieri –  favourite one.

Probably, this church was the most frequently visited one by the Poet, and it also hosted his solemn funerals on September 13th, 1321. The remains of the Supreme Poet were temporarily buried in this church, inside a beautiful 5th-century sarcophagus located in the da Polenta family chapel along the left-hand nave.

History of a basilica

The Basilica of San Francesco was originally consecrated to the Holy Apostles and then to Saint Peter, and dates back to the middle of the 5th century AD.

However, little or nothing remains of the old church, which was repeatedly restored over the centuries. In particular, from 1261 to 1810, and again between 1949 and today, the Franciscans chose it as their seat with the current name of St Francis.

During the restoration works in 1921 – concomitantly with the 6th centenary of Dante’s death – a lot of changes were carried out, and the Baroque superstructures were removed, giving back to the church its austere linearity, characteristic of the 14th century and more in keeping with the sensibilities of the Franciscan order.

The interior of the church

The structure of the basilica is characterised by three naves, separated by two rows of 12 columns each. On the outside, a solid square bell tower dating back to the 9th century enriches the facade, giving it an even more special charm.

Of particular beauty is the semicircular apse on the inside, and heptagonal on the outside, which due to subsidence appears to be 3,5 metres lower than the most recent floor.

Thorugh a window located under the main altar – consisting of a sarcophagus of the 5th century – , it is possible to see a 10th-century crypt. With the little columns sustaining it, the oratory-shaped room was destined to host bishop Neon’s spoils, the founder of the church.

Today, the pavement is completely flooded, but it is possible to admire the mosaics from the original church under the water.

Along the right nave, the basilica also hosts three beautiful chapels dating back to the middle of the 16th century: the first by the sculptor Tullio Lombardo, which also housed the statue of Guidarello now on display at the MAR – Ravenna Art Museum; the central chapel is dedicated to St. Anthony and the third one 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. Francesco, below the presbytery, there is a crypt dating back to the 9th-10th century, which you can reach by descending a double flight of stairs.

Under the altar, through a small arched window protected by a balustrade, it is possible to enjoy a spectacular view of the mosaic floor submerged by groundwater which, depending on the rainfall and sea level, varies in height.

This is not sea water, but filtered fresh water, as demonstrated by the dozens of goldfish swimming in the pool among the colours of the mosaics.

The mosaics of the pavement date back to the late-ancient period (5th century AD) and were restored in 1877. They also display two inscriptions, one in Greek and one in Latin.

The first one in Greek (the language spoken by Galla Placidia and Pietro Crisologo) means: “The servants of God Esichio and Gemella have offered the church a section of mosaic floor”.

The second one, in Latin, commemorates the burial of Bishop Neon (451-459), successor of Peter Chrysologus: “(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.

Behind the window leading to the crypt is a small sarcophagus with the inscription “Ossa Neonis”, as Neon, bishop of Ravenna and commissioner of the original church dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul, was once buried here.

Further information

Opening times

Monday to Saturday: 7.30am – 12pm and 3pm – 6pm
Sunday: 7.30am – 6pm

Entrance fee

Free entry.

Accessibility

The basilica is wheelchair accessible both from the main and from the side entrance.
The crypt is not accessible to people with physical disabilities.

How to get there

The basilica lies right in the heart of Ravenna, in a controlled traffic area. Along with the Old Franciscan Cloisters, Dante’s Tomb, Dante Museum and Quadrarco of Braccioforte is one of the monuments of the so-called Zone of Silence.

On foot: the basilica is easily reachable on foot from the nearby railway station.

By bus: just 20 metres away, in Piazza Caduti della Libertà is a bus stop served by every urban route.

By car: the city centre of Ravenna is limited to the traffic. To discover nearby parking areas click HERE.

 

A cura della Redazione Locale
E-mail: turismo@comune.ravenna.it

Last edit:18 November 2021

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