Basilica of San Nicola

Hear the tales of thievery in the origin of the Santa Claus story and delve into this church’s crypt to see the saint’s stolen relics.

Pilgrims flock to the iconic Basilica of San Nicola, which was constructed in 1089 to contain the pilfered relics of the saint who would become Santa Claus. Its façade, which is framed by two low towers, is of Romanesque design. Visit the crypt and learn about the intriguing story behind this church.

Stand in the Piazza San Nicola and snap photos of the historic religious structure. Note the blind arcading, arched windows and large portals. Intriguing carvings with Arabian, Byzantine and Classical influences on the main portal embellish the simple yet elegant façade. See sculpted lions decorating the columns beside the door on the northern side of the church.

Enter the church to appreciate the imposing marble columns and arches above the nave. Inspect the intricate artwork of the Romanesque capitals at the top of the pillars. Among the highlights of the church is the Baroque bishop’s throne, which is made from marble and located in the apse. It is adjacent to the monument of Bona Sforza, who was Queen of Poland and Duchess of Bari in the 16th century.

Descend the stairway into the crypt to see the famous relics of St. Nicolas. Marvel at the silver and gold reliefs and the ornate altar. Learn about the saint, who was born in modern-day Turkey in the 4th century. His relics turned up in Bari centuries later after allegedly being stolen by sailors from his original grave in Myra.

The basilica is open to the public Monday through Saturday from morning to early evening.

The Basilica of San Nicola is near the Bari Harbor in the old town district of northern Bari. Walk north from the Bari Centrale train station for a little more than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to reach the church. Visit the nearby attractions, such as Bari Cathedral, the Chiesa dei Veneziani and the Norman Castle.

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