Crypt of Salerno Cathedral, Campania, Italy, 11th century

Getty Images/DeAgostini


Top choice in Salerno

One of Campania's strangely under-the-radar sights, Salerno’s impressive cathedral is considered by aficionados to be the most beautiful medieval church in Italy. Built by the Normans in the 11th century and later aesthetically remodelled in the 18th century, it sustained severe damage in a 1980 earthquake. It is dedicated to San Matteo (St Matthew), whose remains were reputedly brought to the city in 954 and now lie beneath the main altar in the vaulted crypt.

Take special note of the magnificent main entrance, the 12th-century Porta dei Leoni, named after the marble lions at the foot of the stairway. It leads through to a beautiful, harmonious courtyard, surrounded by graceful arches and overlooked by a 12th-century bell tower. Carry on through the huge bronze doors (similarly guarded by lions), which were cast in Constantinople in the 11th century. When you come to the three-aisled interior, you will see that it is largely baroque, with only a few traces of the original church. These include parts of the transept and choir floor and the two raised pulpits in front of the choir stalls. Throughout the church you can see highly detailed 13th-century mosaic work redolent of the extraordinary early-Christian mosaics in Ravenna.

In the right-hand apse, don’t miss the Cappella delle Crociate (Chapel of the Crusades), containing powerful frescoes and more wonderful mosaics. It was so named because crusaders’ weapons were blessed here. Under the altar stands the tomb of 11th-century pope Gregory VII.

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