Image: The Basilica of San Vitale is a late antique church in Ravenna, Italy. The 6th century church is an important surviving example of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture. It is one of eight structures in Ravenna inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its foundational inscription describes the church as a basilica, though its centrally-planned design is not typical of the basilica form. The Roman Catholic Church has designated the building a “basilica”, an honorific title bestowed on exceptional church buildings of historic and ecclesial importance.
At the foot of the apse side walls are two famous mosaic panels, completed in 547. On the right is a mosaic depicting the East Roman Emperor Justinian I; another panel (see image) shows Empress Theodora solemn and formal, with golden halo, crown and jewels.
From the website Britannica:
“Basilica, in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, a canonical title of honour given to church buildings that are distinguished either by their antiquity or by their role as international centres of worship because of their association with a major saint, an important historical event, or, in the Orthodox Church, a national patriarch. The title gives the church certain privileges, principally the right to reserve its high altar for the pope, a cardinal, or a patriarch, and special penitential privileges that remove the basilica from local geographical jurisdiction and give it international status.
In the typical Early Christian basilica, the columns separating the nave from the side aisles carried either arches or an entablature (straight band of molding), and above these was a blank wall supporting the timber roof of the nave. Because the nave rose considerably higher than the side aisles, the wall that supported the nave roof stood above the level of the side aisle roofs and could thus be pierced at the top with windows to light the centre of the church. This high nave wall is called the clerestory. The side aisles themselves were either single or double. The apse opened from the nave by a great arch known as the triumphal arch. In some cases, if there was a transept, another triumphal arch separated the transept from the nave. At the entrance end a narthex, or vestibule, extended the entire width of the nave and aisles. This narthex was commonly fronted by a colonnade and, in many cases, opened onto a court surrounded by either colonnades or arcades. After the 10th century a round or square campanile, or bell tower, was added.
The exterior of such a building was simple and was rarely decorated. The simplicity of the interior, however, provided surfaces suitable for elaborate ornamentation.
Although the basilica is primarily characteristic of Rome, there are many examples elsewhere. The 5th-century church of St. Demetrius at Thessalonica, Greece, and the 6th-century churches of S. Apollinare Nuovo and S. Apollinare in Classe, both at Ravenna, are particularly noteworthy examples. The basilica plan, with its nave, aisles, and apse, remained the basis for church building in the Western Church. It gradually passed out of use in the Eastern Church, however, eclipsed by the radial plan on which the emperor Justinian I constructed the domed cathedral of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople.”