Euphrasian Basilica in Porec

This is actually a complex of buildings constituting a rare example of early Christian (early Byzantine) architecture. The building was consecrated by Bishop Euphrasius in the 6th century and now consists of a four sided atrium, an octagonal baptistery (to the west of the atrium), a triple-naved basilica, joined to a trefoil-shaped memorial chapel, an elliptical narthex (to the east) and the Bishop’s Palace (to the north). The atrium was built after the basilica and is covered on all four sides by a portico which houses a rich collection of stone monuments. On the upper parts of the facade to the west and east, some traces of old mosaics still remain. The present ones were restored in the 19th century. The baptistery was built in the 5th century together with the pre-Euphrasian basilica, and underwent considerable alterations during the building of the Euphrasian basilica in the 6th century It is an octagonal building, in the centre of which is the font, also octagonal, a hollow which was used by Christian converts who were baptised by total immersion. It appears that the baptistery was in use in this way right up the middle of the l5th century. After the walls of the baptistery in Zadar were destroyed in the Second World War, this became the only remaining remnant of early Christianity of its kind still intact in Croatia. Alongside the baptistery a bell tower was built in the 16th century and from the top of it there is a splendid view over Porec, the surrounding countryside and the sea. The Euphrasian basilica has for the most part retained its original shape but accidents, fires and earthquakes have altered a few details. Following the earthquake in 1440 the southern wall of the central nave of the basilica was restored, so that in place of the windows, which were destroyed, windows were built in the Gothic style. The ciborium in the sanctuary was built in 1277 and the stone altar rail has been reconstructed from fragments of the original. ln the course of its long history the Euphrasian basilica has seen many changes. 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. 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 capitals in the basilica and atrium are typical examples of Byzantine architecture, as are the columns and tiles on the altar rail and the abundant mosaics. The best preserved mosaics are in the central apse, and they are also the most significant remains of the monumental art of the 6th century. Most impressive of all 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 mosaics at the foot of the apse and the rich encrustations were brought from the Temple of Neptune, whilst the stucco and plastic work are from the time of Euphrasius. In the half dome of the apse there is a beautiful composition showing the Madonna on a throne, surrounded by the martyrs and the builder of the basilica, Bishop Euphrasius. In the centre of the apse there are representations of scenes from Mary’s life, the Annunciation and the Visitation. The Bishop’s Palace was also built in the 6th century, but very little remains of the original building. The side chapels of the basilica were built later, in the 17th and 19th centuries. Near the Basilica is the Poreč parish collection, with forty-odd exhibits, some of which are important fragments of mosaic (the oldest coming from the 3rd century), crosses (13th century), choir stalls and some altar pieces (15th to 17th centuries). Because of its great value as a monument, the Basilica has been placed by UNESCO on its list of sites of the World’s cultural heritage.