Discovering the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore in Verona
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The Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore stands out for its beauty and its historical and religious importance.Number of views: 114
Verona, known for its millennia-old history, picturesque hill landscapes, and, of course, exceptional religious architecture, is a city that never fails to captivate visitors. Among the numerous churches and basilicas, the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore stands out for its beauty and historical and religious significance.
The Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore is dedicated to San Zeno, the patron saint of Verona, and it is one of the most important places of worship in the city. Its construction began in the 9th century, above a church built on the saint's tomb, and it was completed in the 13th century, though it underwent transformations and adaptations over the centuries, assuming its current configuration. The Basilica of San Zeno is not only a sacred edifice but also a masterpiece predominantly of Romanesque architecture, characterized by an imposing facade, a series of medieval frescoes, and even some Gothic and Renaissance elements.
The facade of the Basilica of San Zeno is a marvel of Romanesque architecture, dominated by a magnificent rose window, known as the "Wheel of Fortune," adorned with statues depicting various phases of human life. At the center of the facade stands the protiro, signed by the master Niccolò in the 12th century, featuring stylized lions, sacred and political bas-reliefs, and depictions of the months of the year.
The main entrance of the Basilica of San Zeno boasts an extraordinary bronze portal composed of 73 various-sized panels adorning two large wooden doors. These panels appear to be asymmetrically arranged and depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments, miracles of San Zeno, human figures, and Virtues. The portal was created at different times by various master founders, possibly three, using the method of small separate castings. The two current wooden doors, made of larch, were likely crafted when the church was expanded in 1138. The panels, however, seem to have originally been created to decorate a smaller and older church portal and were later reused and integrated when the church was expanded. This explains the apparent iconographic and aesthetic disorder of the panels.
In general, the portal is considered one of the most interesting examples of its kind in Italy.
On either side of the protiro and the portal, a series of sculptures adorn the facade, making it a veritable stone book that tells sacred stories from the Old and New Testaments through its sculptures, including the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Original Sin, the Flight into Egypt, the Crucifixion, and even the prominent figure of Theodoric the Great. The bas-reliefs on the left side of the left protiro belong to the artist Guglielmo.
To access the interior of the church, visitors ascend a few steps outside, symbolizing the detachment of the spirit from worldly things, and then descend a few others, as an invitation to humility. The basilica's interior is divided into three naves by two rows of imposing pillars. The central nave culminates in a wide staircase that leads down to the crypt.
Here, in the apse, lies the body of San Zeno in a sarcophagus. The saint's face is covered with a silver mask, and he is dressed in pontifical robes. In the past, the crypt also contained the sarcophagus of Saints Lucillus, Lupicinus, and Crescens, which has now been moved to the area of the upper presbytery, serving as the main altar. The crypt space is divided by 49 columns, from which arches spring, forming the 54 cross-vaults that make up the ceiling. Each column is adorned with a carved capital, each with a unique motif, including human heads, hunting scenes, floral and animal motifs, and more. Originally, both the walls and pillars of the crypt were richly decorated with frescoes from various periods, of which traces and fragments remain today. The entrance to the crypt is protected by an elegant wrought iron gate.
The two side naves terminate with stairs that, when ascended, lead to the presbytery delimited by a balustrade enriched with 12 statues and raised above the area reserved for the faithful. Thus, the space of the basilica is vertically divided into three levels: crypt, space for the faithful, and presbytery.
The finely decorated wooden ceiling dates back to the Gothic renovation period of the building; it is a work of art in itself and, like the renowned ceiling of the Church of San Fermo Maggiore, features a nave-vaulted design.
Frescoes and Altarpieces
Inside the basilica, visitors can admire a series of frescoes dating back to the medieval period. These works of art narrate stories from the Bible and the life of San Zeno, bringing the church's walls to life. Often, the paintings feature graffiti inscriptions in German names and sometimes short phrases, left by monks from Germany who stayed in the basilica for extended periods. The frescoes are an extraordinary example of medieval religious art and provide a fascinating insight into medieval life and faith. In the right nave, there is an altarpiece by Francesco Torbido, while in the apse, you can find the famous altarpiece of San Zeno by Andrea Mantegna.
The Bell Tower
The bell tower of the Basilica of San Zeno stands majestically next to the church, with its 72-meter height making it one of Verona's most beautiful bell towers.
It rests on an imposing rectangular base made of hewn stone blocks. Stone is also used in architectural details, while tufa and brick courses create a typical bicolor effect characteristic of Veronese Romanesque style.
The bell chamber features two superimposed orders of trefoil windows on each side, with semicircular arches in tufa and a ring of brick. The columns, capitals, and corbels have simple forms, some decorated with leaves and others with a central flower on the abacus.
Since 1498, the bell chamber has housed six bells, with the largest one cast in 1423, emitting the note G flat. Some of the older bells were cast in 1755, but their original inscriptions are preserved.
Inside the bell tower, there are several rooms, including a vaulted chamber that may have once served as a prison. Stairs lead to the first floor, where the walls are made of a concrete casting between two surfaces, alternating between intact brick and fragmented tufa blocks. As you ascend, the use of brick blocks increases. In the lower bell chamber, older marbles reused in construction are present.
One of the hidden treasures of the basilica is its cloister, a tranquil courtyard surrounded by Romanesque columns and enriched by a charming garden. The cloister is a perfect place to take a break from the city's hustle and bustle, offering a serene and relaxing atmosphere.
The Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore holds great religious importance for Verona's Catholic community. Every year, thousands of faithful gather here to celebrate religious festivals dedicated to San Zeno. The basilica also serves as a pilgrimage site for believers from around the world who come to pay homage to Verona's patron saint.
Visiting the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore
Monday to Friday: 9:00 AM - 6:30 PM. Saturday: 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM. Sunday and holidays: 1:00 PM - 6:30 PM.
Wheelchair access is only available for the lower part of the basilica. Free admission for disabled visitors and their companions.
No reservation is required for visits.
As this is a place of worship, appropriate attire covering shoulders and legs should be worn when visiting the church.