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

Сергей (16 months ago)
This is the wreckage of the ship on which the relics of St. Nicholas were transported to Bari. Also in the church there is a throne over the relics of St. Nicholas. Behind the bars, under the bedspread, there is a hole through which once a year on May 9, precious ointment is pumped out with a special syringe from the relics of the Saint, every year about 200-250 grams (milliliters) of ointment come. Then it is diluted with clean water and distributed to pilgrims, though for money.
David Jenkins (2 years ago)
Nice. A nearby cat said the Falcon 9 rocket configuration was inspired by the lights in this church. I wasn't convinced but I can see their point. Really not to be missed even if it takes walking all the way from the station.
Daniel Iancu (2 years ago)
Medieval church with artistic painted ceiling and white walls. The structures inside are gothic-like although this artistic current was not present in the area. Also has an interesting orga inside. You could find the relics of Saint Nicholas at the lower level where the people spend time in silence contemplating the shrine.
Martina Teislerova (2 years ago)
What a beautiful basilica. The interior is only simply decorated - it is not too much like usually in churches. But the painted ceiling is breathtaking.
Allanah (3 years ago)
Beautiful basilica with chapel of the relics of San Nicola. A beautiful site to visit and explore the art work. Open to public for most of the day, it was easier than expected to access. No tickets required. There's a gift shop located outside but no public restrooms. Be mindful as it is located in the old city and some parking sharks will try to get you away from the parking spots. Easy to park along the water and free parking on Sundays.
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