Italy is home to some of the most beautiful Byzantine mosaics anywhere in the world. True story: The Byzantine Empire, which dates from the 4th through the 15th century A.D. was founded in Istanbul today, but it extended into Italy, even taking over all of Italy’s boots during the reconquest in the 6th century.
Result? The result? They are easily accessible right here in Italy. These are our top six favorite spots to see Byzantine mosaics throughout Italy. (Want to know more about the meaning of mosaics? How to decode the many symbols in mosaics!
(By the by: Art historians often say that Byzantine mosaics in Italy were created after Emperor Justinian II tried to unify the two halves of the Byzantine empire during his reign between 527-565. Mosaics were still made in classical, ancient Roman style before that. The Byzantine style was not codified until the 6th Century. It had a distinct, more ethereal style than the naturalism of ancient Roman arts. These are the mosaics that we have included in this post. ).
Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica
Wow! Not only is St. Mark’s Basilica beautiful, but the mosaic area covers 8,000 meters. Ceiling mosaics like this one date back to the 12th Century and depict scenes from the New Testament. They are completely Byzantine due to their strict, formal style.
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome
The Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Trastevere, is well-known for its underground ruins and touching sculpture by Carlo Maderno. It’s also known for its medieval frescos… and these mosaics. The 9th-century Byzantine mosaics in the apse depict Christ’s Second Coming.
Basilica of Santa Prassede, Rome
Santa Prassede, located just around the corner of Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major), dates back to the 9th Century and still retains its original–and Byzantine -mosaics. The apse mosaics may be beautiful, but the side chapel of St. Zeno might be even more stunning. It is the only Roman chapel completely covered in mosaic. It was constructed to house Zeno’s relics, a fourth-century bishop from Verona.
San Vitale Basilica in Ravenna
Original (!) The original (!) mosaics found in this church from the 6th century are considered to be some of the most important achievements in Byzantine art. The choir’s ceiling and walls are covered in glittering gold scenes. This style sits at the intersection of late antique Roman and Byzantine.
Basilica of Monreale, Sicily
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna
Many of the mosaics are from the church, i.e. The mosaics date back to the 6th century. The extraordinary examples of Byzantine mosaic found on the nave, clerestory and clerestory are exceptional. They depict scenes from the lives of Christ and the saints. The oldest mosaics on each wall are those of the church and depict scenes from the New Testament.