Euphrasian Basilica
The Euphrasian Basilica is a basilica
The Latin word basilica , was originally used to describe a Roman public building, usually located in the forum of a Roman town. Public basilicas began to appear in Hellenistic cities in the 2nd century BC.The term was also applied to buildings used for religious purposes...

  in Poreč
Poreč is a town and municipality on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, in Istria County, Croatia. Its major landmark is the 6th century Euphrasian Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997....

, Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

. The episcopal complex, including, apart the basilica itself, a sacristy, a baptistery and the bell tower of the nearby archbishop's palace, is one of the best examples of early Byzantine architecture
Byzantine architecture
Byzantine architecture is the architecture of the Byzantine Empire. The empire gradually emerged as a distinct artistic and cultural entity from what is today referred to as the Roman Empire after AD 330, when the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire east from Rome to...

 in the Mediterranean region.

The Euphrasian basilica has for the most part retained its original shape, but accidents, fires and earthquakes have altered a few details. Since it is the third church to be built on the same site, it conceals previous buildings, for example the great floor mosaic of the previous basilica from the 5th century. Because of its exceptional value, it has been inscribed on the UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 World Heritage List since 1997.


The earliest basilica was dedicated to Saint Maurus of Parentium
Saint Maurus of Parentium
Saint Maurus of Parentium is the patron saint of the Croatian city of Poreč, called Parentium in Roman times. The Church has existed in Istria since the times of the early Christian martyrs. St. Maurus was the first bishop of Poreč and the Istrian diocese who suffered a martyred death in the late...

 and dates back to the second half of the 4th century. The floor mosaic from its oratory
Oratory (worship)
An oratory is a Christian room for prayer, from the Latin orare, to pray.-Catholic church:In the Roman Catholic Church, an oratory is a structure other than a parish church, set aside by ecclesiastical authority for prayer and the celebration of Mass...

, originally part of a large Roman house, is still preserved in the church garden. This oratorium was already expanded in the same century into a church composed of a nave
In Romanesque and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral basilica and church architecture, the nave is the central approach to the high altar, the main body of the church. "Nave" was probably suggested by the keel shape of its vaulting...

 and one aisle (basilicae geminae). The fish (symbol of Christ) on the floor mosaic dates from this period. Coins with the portrayal of emperor Valens
Valens was the Eastern Roman Emperor from 364 to 378. He was given the eastern half of the empire by his brother Valentinian I after the latter's accession to the throne...

 (365–378), found in the same spot, confirm these dates.

The present basilica, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in the sixth century during the period of Bishop Euphrasius. It was built from 553 on the site of the older basilica that had become dilapidated. For the construction, parts of the former church were used and the marble blocks were imported from the coast of the Sea of Marmara
Sea of Marmara
The Sea of Marmara , also known as the Sea of Marmora or the Marmara Sea, and in the context of classical antiquity as the Propontis , is the inland sea that connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, thus separating Turkey's Asian and European parts. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Black...

. The wall mosaics were executed by Byzantian masters and the floor mosaics by local experts. The construction took about ten years. Euphrasius, holding the church in his arms, is represented on one of the mosaics on the apse, next to St. Maurus.

Following the earthquake of 1440 the southern wall of the central nave of the basilica was restored, so that in place of the windows which were destroyed, other were built in the Gothic style.


The basilica is part of a complex composed of:
  • A 6th-century octagonal baptistry. Built in the 5th century together with the pre-Euphrasian basilica, and underwent considerable alterations.
  • A 16th-century bell tower (16th century).
  • A colonnaded atrium. Built after the basilica, it is covered on all four sides by a portico which houses a rich collection of stone monuments.
  • An Episcopal 6th-century residence (The Bishop's Palace), also built in the 6th century. Very little remains of the original building.
  • A trefoil-shaped memorial chapel, built in the 17th and 19th centuries.

The two aisles are separated from the nave by 18 elegant Greek marble colonnades with richly sculpted Byzantine and Romanesque capitals, decorated with depictions of animals. They all carry the monogram
A monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol. Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos. A series of uncombined initials is properly referred to as a...

 of Saint Euphrasius. The arches between the capitals are decorated with stucco
Stucco or render is a material made of an aggregate, a binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as decorative coating for walls and ceilings and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture...


A novelty of the Euphrasian basilica is that rather than being enclosed by a straight wall, as all sacred buildings were up to that time, it makes use of the breadth and length of the apse of the central nave, built in the shape of a polygon from the outside, whilst the two aisles end in smaller semicircular apses, hollowed into the wall. Thus the Euphrasian basilica is the earliest example of a triple-apsed church in Western Europe. The atrium is a typical example of Byzantine architecture, as are the columns, the tiles on the altar rail and all the abundant moisaics. Most impressive is the representation of Christ with the apostles, and beneath it a frieze of 13 medallions with a picture of Christ as the Lamb in the centre, surrounded by 12 medallions depicting various martyrs.

The church houses also holy objects and other artworks from the Palaeo-Christian, Byzantine and Middle Ages periods. A votive chapel, next to the sacristy, holds the relics of Saint Maurus and Saint Eleutherius.


The most striking feature of the basilica are its mosaics, dating from the 6th century, and which are considered amongst the finest examples of Byzantine art in the world.

The mosaics in the triumphal arch over the apse represent Christ; holding an opened book with the text "Ego sum Lux vera" (I am the true light) with the Apostles, each with their attribute, The arch below contains mosaic medallions with the Lamb of God
Lamb of God
The title Lamb of God appears in the Gospel of John, with the exclamation of John the Baptist: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" in John 1:29 when he sees Jesus....

 and portraits of twelve female martyrs. The vault over the apse is decorated with mosaics with Mary and Child, sitting on the Heavenly throne, under a wreath held by a hand - symbol of God the Father. This is the only surviving depiction of the Mother of God in an early-Christian western basilica. She is flanked by angels, Bishop Euphrasius, holding the model of the church; also local saints are depicted, including St. Maurus, the first bishop of Poreč and the Istrian diocese, and the archdeacon Claudius . The child between Euphrasius and Claudius is accompanied by the inscription "Euphrasius, son of the archdeacon". All figures stand on a meadow covered with flowers.
The central mosaics between the windows of the apse represent the Annunciation and the Visitation. In the Annunciation mosaic an angel raises his hand to indicate a message. In his left hand he holds the staff of a messenger. Mary wears a purplish blue dress and a veil. She holds yarn in her left hand. On the other side the mosaics depicts the visitation of Mary to Elisabeth. Both wear contemporary sacerdotal vestments with a cape full of ribbons. A small female figure is looking from behind the curtain of a house. The three small medallions depict St. John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

, Zacharias and an angel. Between these two large mosaics are smaller mosaics depicting the Young Christ with halo, and two martyrs with their martyr crown. In the northern apse these are probably Cosmas and Damian
Saints Cosmas and Damian
Saints Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, physicians, and early Christian martyrs born in Cilicia, part of today's Turkey. They practiced their profession in the seaport of Ayas, Adana, then in the Roman province of Syria...

, in the south apse Ursus (or another Bishop of Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

), and Severus.

The front wall of the apse is framed with a narrow decorated band filled with praise of Euphrasius and his works. The lower part of the apse is decorated with stone slabs encrusted with mother-of-pearl. Part of these came from an earlier wainscotting. They consist of 21 fields with 11 different decorations. In the middle stands the bishop's throne, flanked by candlesticks.


The apsis is dominated by the marble ciborium
Ciborium (architecture)
In ecclesiastical architecture, a ciborium is a canopy or covering supported by columns, freestanding in the sanctuary, that stands over and covers the altar in a basilica or other church. It may also be known by the more general term of baldachin, though ciborium is often considered more correct...

, modelled after the one in St. Mark's in Venice, it was built in 1277 on the orders of by Otto, Bishop of Poreč. The canopy, decorated with mosaics, is carried by four marble columns that belonged to the previous 6th-century ciborium. The front side of the canopy depicts representations of scenes from Mary's life, the Annunciation
The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord, is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary to name her...

. In the 15th century Bishop Johann Porečanin ordered in Italy a Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 relief for the antependium of the altar, made of gilded silver. The polyptych
A polyptych generally refers to a painting which is divided into sections, or panels. The terminology that follows is in relevance to the number of panels integrated into a particular piece of work: "diptych" describes a two-part work of art; "triptych" describes a three-part work; "tetraptych"...

 of the Venetian painter Antonio Vivarini
Antonio Vivarini
Antonio Vivarini was an Italian painter of the early Renaissance-late Gothic period, who worked mostly in the Republic of Venice...

 dates from the same period. The Last Supper, painted by Palma the Younger is a Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...


See also

  • Basilica di San Vitale
  • Early Christian art and architecture
    Early Christian art and architecture
    Early Christian art and architecture is the art produced by Christians or under Christian patronage from about the year 100 to about the year 500. Prior to 100 there is no surviving art that can be called Christian with absolute certainty...

     - Palaeo-Christian
  • Byzantine architecture
    Byzantine architecture
    Byzantine architecture is the architecture of the Byzantine Empire. The empire gradually emerged as a distinct artistic and cultural entity from what is today referred to as the Roman Empire after AD 330, when the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire east from Rome to...

External links

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