The emperor Justinian (527-565) built the basilica of St John on the saint’s fourth-century church and tomb. With a cruciform plan and six domes extending 110m. long, it was his grandest creation outside Constantinople. It conforms to a splendid architectural type first developed under Constantine I in the church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. Following Early Christian and Byzantine tradition, the worshippers passed through an atrium and a narthex before entering the nave. This space consisted of two lofty domed compartments with aisles and galleries on the north and south sides. Windows in walls above the galleries illuminated the nave. The same architectural scheme was adopted centuries later in St Mark’s Venice (1063-1094).

The inflated columns’ simple capitals, far less ornate than those in Justinian’s masterpiece Hagia Sophia, carry stylized foliage and Christian symbols. Four columns in the crossing indicate the bema, the sacred place over the tomb of St John. Archaeologists found four sarcophagi in this place, one of them larger than the other ones and presumed to belong to St John. However, they were all empty.

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