3E Cultural Routes

Paleo-Christian Basilica of St.Michael (Arapaj)

The largest Paleo-Christian church in Albania, Saint Mhill’s Basilica, is a three-nave basilica from the VI century. The 60 m long and 28 m wide basilica is built with stone walls and rows of bricks. The interior walls were painted with frescoes, the traces of which are still preserved today, while the sculpted fragments show a rich architectural decor.

The main prayer hall, the nave, was paved with marble tiles. In its southern part, there is a 9×6 meter environment with two colorful mosaic panels. In it, within a wide frame, two emblems decorated with different figures are drawn. In
the center of the first emblem is a vase from which emerges the tree of the Eucharist, thanksgiving, with vine branches filled with grapes. On both sides of it stand two stags. The second emblem has a free composition taken from nature, with shepherds, horses, dogs, and goats. The mosaic stands out for its composition, the realism of the figures, and the rich colors.

According to Anna Komnena, in the fighting between the Byzantines and the Normans in October 1081, the imperial guard of Alex Komnenos took refuge in the basilica, which was set on fire by Robert Guiscard’s Normans.

*The mosaic in the middle of the basilica is closed.