Basilica of St. Mary Formosa in Pula

Preliminary Design of the Archaeological Park

 Authors of the project:

Željko Ujčić –  Head of the Medieval Collection of the Archaeological Museum of Istria

Anton Percan – architect


History of the Basilica of St. Mary Formosa

In addition to the Old Christian complex of Bishop Euphrasius in Poreč, the Basilica of St. Mary Formosa is the most significant monument of sacral palaeo-Byzantine art in Croatia. Biographer Agnellus from the first half of the 9th century recorded in "Vita S. Maximiniani" in "Liber Pontificalis ecclesiae Ravennatis", that the Istrian Maximianus (546-556), Justinian’s protégé, a native of Vistar, present day Veštar near Rovinj, ruled wisely as  Archbishop of Ravenna and with time became the key figure of politics of the Empire in northern Adriatic. After he had erected magnificent edifices in Ravenna, including the basilicas S. Vitale (singled out by name and figure in the imperial suite on a wall mosaic) and S. Apollinare in Classe, he decided to build the basilica of St. Mary in the city in which he had served as a young deacon.

It was a magnificent, three-naved basilica (19 x 32 m), situated in the south part of the old city core, with a pair of round sacristies and a pair of mausolea (with a ground-plan in the shape of a Greek cross) and with typical palaeo-Byzantine polygonal apses at the rear and a "mushroom-shaped" door. The rhythm of columns and arches in the church interior was repeated in the exterior of the perimeter walls, by segmentation of windows and pilaster strips that ended in blind arches, which created a play of the shades on the façades and a mystic ambience of contrasting light.

The Basilica was the most important symbol of the large estate of the church of Ravenna, which is documented as the S. Appolinare fief in the territory of the Pula diocese until the 12th century. Once a basilica luxuriantly decorated with marble, mosaics and stucco, which earned it the name of "Formosa" (beautiful), due to its run-down condition in a mediaeval swamp was called "del Canneto" (of the reeds). It was particularly damaged by fire during the 1242 Venetian conquest of Pula, and it was probably the architect J. Sansovino who in 1547 dispatched the marble columns for the Venetian buildings (Libreria S. Marco, Sala delle quattro porte of the Doge’s Palace). According to a tradition, it is possible that the alabaster columns of the ciborium of St. Mark’s basilica in Venice might have originally come from the Formosa.

Archaeological Park        

In the framework of a long-term program of the Archaeological museum of Istria “The Basilica of St. Mary Formosa in Pula (research – protection – presentation)”, the preliminary design of the archaeological park is a natural step towards the ambient presentation of this sacral cultural monument. In order to create a high-quality park, it is necessary to complement the previous historical and archaeological research with the results of future systematic and revision archaeological researches of the interior, the façade and the southern wall of the basilica.

The project aims to present the church "in situ", not only as the site of its already visible and preserved architectural remains, but as a glorious basilica – a representative monument of Justinian's reconquest. The presentation puts emphasis on the extension of the complex (sanctuary, sacristies, chapels), the monumentality of the volume and the fact that the basilica has three naves, as well as on the basic palaeo-Byzantine building features (polygonal apses, a “mushroom-shaped arch”, pilaster strips). Therefore, the basic guidelines of the presentation are accentuation of the eastern volume of the sanctuary and the sacristies by a higher wall, and outlining, with lower walls, of the façade and the southern perimetral wall with intermissions at the spots of the original entrances, then opening of the view to the exterior rhythm of the pilasters of the northern perimetral wall,  reconstruction of the northern lateral entrance and accentuation of the rhythm of the colonnade that divides the naves (replicas of the column bases). That way the building and stone carving interventions with traditional materials would be used for conservation and presentation of approximate architectural remains.

The preparation of the project documentation for the preliminary design of the Archaeological Park requires an interdisciplinary cooperation of authors (Z. Ujčić, archaeologist - A. Percan, architect). New multimedia technologies have developed the cooperation of professional archaeologists and architects in the creation of the project.

A particularly interesting option involves a nightly virtual display of the entire volume of the basilica with the help of futuristic technology – a hologram. The hologram is a three-dimensional reconstruction of a structure with help of laser beams. The hologram mechanism can thus project a three-dimensional, virtual construction, as an idea of the original appearance, historical significance and grandeur of the basilica in the urban complex of the early Christian Pula. Certainly, a natural representation of the basilica in sfumato is possible as an occasional attraction during holidays or a didactic-tourist attraction. This would be an imaginary counterpart to the arcades of the amphitheatre, a specially emphasized lacteous station from the fortifications with ancient entrances (Twin Gate, Hercules Gate, Arch of the Sergii) on the way to the Forum.

The classical "daily archaeological representation" will outline with its walls the perimeter of the early Christian basilica, forming the enclosure frame of the newly-adapted park. The zone is now not merely a pass-through open walkway, but a gently isolated point of gathering on a green lawn, a spot of possible social happenings and repose, a sort of a spiritual sunset opposed to the surrounding parking lot, the extremely busy Flacius street and the massive upright of the wall of the Uljanik Shipyard’s Arsenal. Besides, the preserved chapel - the southeastern cornerstone of the park, will once again be a part of the original whole, that is, it will regain its sense of the literal memorial of the original basilica. At the same time, together with the newly erected walls of the apses of the back of the sanctuary and the sacristies, it encloses the occasional in-depth scene – the stage of the spatial park. The rear of the basilica with the polygonal apses of the chapel and the newly erected wall complements the original rhythmic sculpture as the most picturesque impression of the reconstructed palaeo-Byzantine architecture.

The northern cross-chapel can not be presented in the original location as its modest traces are presently incorporated into a historical residential complex, together with the architectural remains of the bell-tower and the monastery. However, the topic of the monastery opens a new archaeologically unknown chapter, the challenge of a new research and more comprehensive story about the Basilica of St. Mary Formosa in the Middle Ages.

3D Visualization of the Basilica St. Mary Formosa in Pula

Typo3 site by Ulisys d.o.o. , 2010.