August 20, 2014, by Richard Rawles
Holiday photos: late antiquity on the Adriatic (1)
In between research and other duties, I have taken a welcome week of holiday in Friuli (NE Italy, close to the border with Slovenia) and at Poreč on the peninsula of Istria, at the Western end of Croatia. My partner and I didn’t choose these destinations for any classics-related reason: the former is where her family lives, and the latter was chosen because it was nearby and looked like an interesting place to visit for a few days, with probable sun and certain beach! But of course in Mediterranean lands (and in plenty of other places too) antiquity can be around you whether you look for it or not… From a British perspective, among the many exciting aspects of classical remains in Mediterranean countries can be where the ‘gap’ between classical and later periods seems much less than it is here: in Britain we do not find churches from late antiquity which are still in use today, but elsewhere you can. The photos shared here are from the Basilica of Euphrasius at Poreč.
Fortunately for me, since my partner is also a classicist, I was spared the experience of being expected to show expertise in all things ancient: she knows that my work is about literature, and not art or material culture, and in addition that the literature I work on is many centuries away from anything you see here. So please read this blog-post in the same spirit: I am not at all expert in this material, just sharing some pictures!
The Basilica of St Euphrasius at Poreč is on a site with substantial remains of Christian material going back to the fourth century AD, and the existing church is largely sixth century AD (with later additions, of course).
This glorious mosaic pavement and this Christian fish (because the word for fish, ΙΧΘΥΣ, can be read as an acrostic: Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ ‘Jesus Christ, son of God, Saviour’) are from the earlier period.
Here is the inside of the church as it is now, with astonishing sixth-century wall-mosaics at the choir end and columns with capitals and reliefs in the arches from the same date (on the North side, i.e. to the left of the picture: the arch reliefs on the South side have been lost).
The mosaics are sensational, but in many ways I loved the relief carvings inside the arches just as much. Here is one arch, with birds.
The Basilica is still a functioning church, but the relationship between church and de facto museum has been handled quite well. Here they have put a hole in the modern floor. Beneath is the sixth century mosaic floor, and beneath that an earlier mosaic layer. My foot for scale.
Here the carvings and the mosaics together (I think my partner took this photo).