The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe rises grand and solemn about 8 km from the center of Ravenna.
Giuliano Argentario built it on the orders of Archbishop Ursicino during the first half of the sixth century. on an area used as a cemetery between the end of the second and the beginning of the third century, where it seems that the same bishop Apollinare was buried.
The church has been called the greatest example of an early Christian basilica. Despite the looting suffered over the centuries, the church still preserves the beauty of the original structure and is admired for the splendid polychrome mosaics and the ancient marble sarcophagi of the archbishops along the side aisles.
The basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. [/ vc_column_text]
The basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe recalls the most ancient architectural tradition but in some architectural elements, we note the continuous cultural exchanges that the city of Ravenna has had with the cities of the eastern Mediterranean. Examples are: the wall structure, consisting of the typical elongated bricks; the apse, polygonal on the outside and semicircular on the inside; the rooms that flank the altar area. The gabled façade of the basilica is extremely simple.
Originally it was preceded by an ardica, a large quadrilateral space surrounded by arcades, as it was used in late antique basilicas. Today there is a portico, rebuilt during the restoration in the early twentieth century. On the north side of the basilica stands the circular bell tower of the 10th century. more than thirty-seven meters high.
The interior, large and bright, is divided into three naves by twenty-four columns of Greek marble. The Byzantine capitals that surmount the columns are worked with acanthus leaves that seem to be moved by the wind. This large band of masonry houses frescoes with portraits of part of the bishops and archbishops of Ravenna. The medallions were made in 1775 by Antonio Cantoni, Giovanni Battista Roberti from Forlì and Domenico Barbiani.
The terracotta floor we see today has replaced an ancient mosaic made with marble and stone materials. Only a few square meters of such beauty have been preserved, visible in the side aisles.
The side walls of the Basilica were once covered with precious marble. In 1449 the beautiful coverings were removed by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, lord of Rimini and audacious leader.
The side aisles house a unique collection of sarcophagi dating from the fourth to the eighth century. These funerary monuments have an immense value, both for the beauty and quality of the sculpture, and because they give the possibility to evaluate the changes in style that have occurred over the centuries. No other Ravenna church contains so many examples of such significance and of such different historical periods.
The wall mosaics
In a sky full of blue and reddish clouds the four Evangelists, symbolically rendered, approach the medallion with Christ the Savior. In the second area, built in the 7th century, some lambs that symbolize the apostles or more generally the Church, come out of Bethlehem and Jerusalem and ascend towards Christ.
On the two sides of the central band a mosaic decoration dated to the 7th century: the palms, symbol of Paradise, followed by the figures of the archangels Michael and Gabriel, dating back to the 6th century, who proudly display the banner with an inscription Greek praising the Holy Trinity. In the lower register, the two virile busts representing two apostles are the result of 12th century restorations.
In the decoration of the apsidal basin, one of the greatest artistic creations of Ravenna-Byzantine art, it is flooded with a light that unites earth and sky in a soothing understanding. The mosaic was thus conceived to speak to the soul and mind of the faithful by Archbishop Maximian, a high cultural exponent of the time.
In the mosaic representation, in axis with the cross, at the bottom, the great figure of Apollinaris stands out wearing the white tunic, the chasuble and the white pallium resting on his shoulders; with his arms outstretched and in an ancient gesture of prayer he addresses the faithful. The twelve lambs that converge towards the saint represent the first faithful of the Ravenna Church, who turn to Apollinaris to gain access to the bliss of Paradise. The first bishop of Ravenna is immersed in an enchanting green lawn on which evergreen trees, white flowers and birds with colorful plumage are arranged.
Above the figure of the titular saint is represented, in a golden background, the episode of the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. The episode, taken from the Gospels, is rendered partly abstractly and partly figuratively. The work intended to proclaim faith in Christ, true God and true man, challenged by various heresies, including the Arianism that was widespread in Ravenna in the Gothic era. An imposing medallion encloses a large cross wrapped in a sky studded with stars. At the intersection of the arms of the Latin cross set with gems, the Transfigured and Risen Son of God.
The inscriptions inside the medallion underline the meaning of the cross, an instrument of Jesus’ sacrifice, but a symbol of salvation and triumph for all of humanity. Higher up, the Hand of God the Father, which comes out of the clouds, attests to the presence of God at the moment of the transfiguration of the Son, to which the prophets Moses and Elijah also offer their witness. Under the busts of Moses and Elijah, in the soft green meadow, three lambs are represented, metaphorically the apostles Peter, James and John, who look towards Christ who has been transfigured before their eyes.
The figure of Apollinare placed in the center of the apse is intended to exalt the Church of Ravenna: the same message is communicated through the four figures of bishops placed between the windows below the basin. In the lower part of the apse, in fact, within niches surmounted by a shell, four portraits of bishops are represented including Ursicino who was the client who began the construction of the Classican church in full Gothic domination, but the consecration took place at the time of Bishop Maximian and more precisely on May 9, 549.
Proceeding in the description of the apsidal wall, we come across two large mosaic panels at the edges; the panel on the right proposes the theme of the Eucharist: Abel offering the lamb as a sacrifice, Melchizedek, high priest, king of Salem, giving the bread and wine and Abraham destining his son Isaac to God.
The mosaic on the left, on the other hand, depicts a historical episode that took place in 666, when the Emperor Constantine IV Pogonato handed over the granting of autonomy from the church of Rome to a messenger of Archbishop Mauro. These panels, dating back to the 7th century and of lesser artistic quality than those in the apse, have undergone numerous tampering and were largely restored in the 18th century.