Basilica of Saint Nicholas

Bari, Italy

The Basilica of Saint Nicholas holds wide religious significance throughout Europe and the Christian world. The basilica is an important pilgrimage destination both for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

The basilica was built between 1087 and 1197, during the Italo-Norman domination of Apulia, the area previously occupied by the Byzantine Catapan of which Bari was the seat. Its foundation is related to the recovery of some of the relics of Saint Nicholas from the saint's original shrine in Myra, in what is now Turkey. When Myra passed into the hands of the Saracens, some saw it as an opportunity to move the saint's relics to a safer location. According to the justifying legend, the saint, passing by the city on his way to Rome, had chosen Bari as his burial place. There was great competition for the relics between Venice and Bari. The latter won, the relics were carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Muslim masters, and on May 9, 1087, were safely landed at Bari. A new church was built to shelter Nicholas' remains and Pope Urban II was present at the consecration of the crypt in 1089. The edifice was officially consecrated in 1197, in the presence of the Imperial Vicar, Bishop Conrad of Hildesheim, and of numerous bishops, prelates and noblemen. Elias, abbot of the nearby monastery of Saint Benedict, was named as first archbishop. His cathedra (bishop's throne) still stands in the church. Mediaval Serbian dynasty Nemanjic were significant donors as well.


The church has a rather square appearance, seemingly more suited to a castle than to a church. This impression is strengthened by the presence of two low massive towers framing the façade. It was indeed used several times as castle during its history.

The interior has a nave and two aisles, divided by granite columns and pilasters. The presbytery is separated from the rest of the edifice by mean of three arches supported by columns of Byzantine influence. Above the aisles is the matronaeum, a tribune gallery for women, opening into the nave. The basilica was the first church of this design, setting a precedent which was later imitated in numerous other constructions in the region.

In 2012, a set of integrated data from ground-penetrating radar and seismic sonar have highlighted the presence of relevant water infiltrations in two areas of the crypt restored in 1950, which possibly can be due to an accumulation of humidity.


The Basilica houses one of the most noteworthy Romanesque sculptural works of southern Italy, a cathedra (bishop's throne) finished in the late eleventh century for Elias. There are precious mosaic pavements in the crypt and presbytery. The ciborium, the most ancient in the region, is also decorated with mosaic; it has four columns with foliage, animals and mythological figures. The crypt, with 26 columns sporting capitals in Byzantine and Romanesque style, houses the relics of Saint Nicholas.

In the church there is a 16th-century Renaissance tomb of Bona Sforza, Queen of Poland, made from marble. The Museum of the Basilica has valuable works of art, including a collection of twelfth-century candelabras donated by King Charles I of Anjou.

The church was restored in the late thirteenth century, in 1456 and in the seventeenth century. In the twentieth-century restoration, most of the Baroque additions were removed, leaving only the gilded wooden ceiling, enframing canvases by Carlo De Rosa.



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Founded: 1087-1197
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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User Reviews

Once upon a time Kocadag (5 months ago)
I could’nt see it from inside but even from outside the architecture is amazing, lovely old streets in Bari! By the way if you didn’t watched the italian Movie Baaria then definitelely recommended. You can see more stories and photos on my instagram. Insta: Soul_traveller77 Ps. Thi photos are my style how I capture them ☺️?
tortoise (6 months ago)
One of the most recognizable landmarks of Bari. Beautiful basilica dedicated to Saint Nicholas. A suitable place for prayer and contemplation. in the basement there is the tomb of Saint Nicolas.
Valentina Leardi (6 months ago)
Wonderful architecture and style! For photographers: the light is excellent at sunset as the façade is west-faced. Very peculiar interiors with a huge statue of St. Nicola. Worth a visit!
Dejan Braki (7 months ago)
Basilica of San Nicola was on top of my list in Bari and the very first thing we've visited in this port city. St. Nicholas is my mother's family Patron Saint so it was a pilgrimage visit to pay our respects. The Basilica is set in the old town, built in a Norman Romanesque style as early as 11c. The Piazza in front is rather small compared to huge Church, so it's pretty difficult to capture it. There's a monument on it dedicated to St. Nicholas - the Miracle maker. Interiors are huge with big columns and uneven arches with wood/gold decorated ceiling and beautiful altar. Downstairs in the crypt are the Saint's relics with his remains. Free entry
ion raut (9 months ago)
Bari's signature basilica was one of the first Norman churches to be built in southern Italy, and is a splendid (if square and solid) example of Pugliese-Romanesque architecture. Dating to the 12th century, it was originally constructed to house the relics of St Nicholas (better known as Father Christmas), which were stolen from Turkey in 1087 by local fishing folk. Today, it is an important place of pilgrimage for both Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
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