The Basilica di San Nicola is a centerpiece of Bari Vecchia, the old town at the heart of the modern city of Bari. The largest city in the region of Puglia and a major port on the Adriatic, Bari has a rich and varied history, and a visit to its imposing 12th-century Romanesque basilica is a must for architecture enthusiasts. The Basics
One of the top attractions in Bari, the Basilica di San Nicola is a highlight of walking, bike, and rickshaw tours of the historic center, which also often include the Swabian Castle (Castello Svevo), Cathedral of St. Sabino, and Piazza Mercantile. Bari is also famous for its traditional cuisine, and foodies can join a walking tour that includes street-food tastings or a pasta-making experience along with a visit to the basilica.
Some 150 years in the making, the basilica was completed while Bari was under Norman rule and is an excellent example of Puglian-Romanesque architecture. Behind the austere stone facade, the interior houses one of the most important pieces of Romanesque sculpture in southern Italy, an 11th-century bishop's throne. Other treasures include the mosaic floor in the crypt and presbytery and a gilded wooden ceiling with canvases by Carlo De Rosa dating from the later baroque period.Things to Know Before You Go
How to Get There
- Walking, bike, and rickshaw tours of Bari include significant time outdoors, so wear a hat and sunscreen.
- A short flight of steps up to the basilica means it is not accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.
- Visitors must wear modest clothing covering shoulders and knees to enter the church.
- The basilica is an important pilgrimage site and place of worship, so respectful decorum is recommended if visiting during Mass.
The Basilica of San Nicola is located on Largo Abate Elia, in the heart of Bari’s historic center and an easy walk from the train station and from other important sights and attractions. When to Get There
Southern Italian cities can get uncomfortably hot in the summer, and Bari is no exception. Plan your visit to the basilica during the midday hours when the cool church interior offers some respite from the Mediterranean sun.
The Real Santa Claus
The basilica is a pilgrimage destination for both Catholic and Orthodox Christians who gather to honor the relics of Saint Nicholas, stolen in the 11th century from Myra in present-day Turkey. Patron saint of Bari, San Nicola is better known across the English-speaking world as Santa Claus or Father Christmas, and his remains are kept in the basilica’s crypt. Legend holds that myrrh seeps from his body, a miracle celebrated on December 6 with solemn processions throughout the city.