The Basilica Paleocristiana (Early Christian Basilica) is of significant religious and artistic importance to Trieste. Built between the 4th and 6th centuries AD, it is located in via Madonna del Mare in Cavana, an area that fell outside the walls of ancient Trieste (Tergeste) along a road dotted with burial sites leading to the Roman Port (FYI if you go into the CAD in Cavana, in the detergent section, you’ll find a glass panel in the floor revealing remnants of the old Roman Port!) This route also led to the Roman necropolis and subsequently Christian burial ground as attested to by the below ground sarcophagi found in the rectory.
When you go inside you enter directly into what was the Apse of the Basilica where there is a square niche that was once the reliquary under the altar slab, and 2 rectangular tombs. Then looking ahead of you lays the nave where the two different floors are clearly evident. the lower black and white designed mosaic floor dates to the early V century AD and the multi colored mosaic in red, white, black and yellow lain directly above it dates to the VI century AD. They testify to the wealth of the church in Trieste and the relationship between the city’s citizens with the Roman city of Aquilea and the Byzantine East and to the fact that the basilica had served through two important phases in the history of the site.
The upper mosaic is perhaps the more interesting and is decorated with polychrome logos intersected by argyle patterns. Look for the inscriptions embedded into the mosaics tiles. These inscriptions mention the names of various benefactors, several of whom originated from Greek and the Far East. There’s also one of the earliest instances of the words Sancta Ecclesia Tergestina (Holy Church of Tergestina). On the upper mosaic there are traces of a fire that is believed to have been the cause of the destruction of the Church. During the period from the VI-IX Century there is no more mention of the church, but then in the 1150s reference is made to the church of Santa Maria del Mare (because of its proximity to the sea). It is believed that this is where the remains of the martyred patron saint of Trieste, San Giusto, were buried until their relocation to the Duomo.
Originally uncovered by Domenico Rossetti, while undertaking excavations for construction, the ruins were then salvaged and preserved in the 1960s.
Archaeologist-led tour of the church and mosaics take place on Sunday mornings. Ask at the tourist information office on Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia for full details and out-of-hours visits.
via Madonna del Mare 11, Trieste
Open Sundays 10.00-12.00
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange private group tour