Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Poreč, Croatia, the Euphrasian Basilica, also known locally as Eufrazijeva bazilika, was inscribed by UNESCO in 1997 as a World Heritage Site for its cultural significance. In particular, the basilica contains some of the finest examples of Byzantine mosaic art that can be found in the world today.
The use of mosaic art to create various secular and religious images dates back to Ancient Greek and Roman civilization and beyond. Both the Greeks and the Romans used mosaics, small pieces of coloured objects, to create these images.
During the Ancient Greco-Roman era, there were two main techniques involved in the production of mosaics: opus vermiculatum and opus tessellatum. The opus vermiculatum technique meant that tesserae, the individual mosaics, were smaller in size and produced in a workshop environment before being transported to a particular site for installation.
The opus tessellatum technique, on the other hand, utilized larger tesserae and was frequently installed on site.
Until the sixth century, the opus vermiculatum and opus tessellatum techniques remained the two main mosaic art producing techniques. It was during the sixth century, however, that Byzantine mosaics were introduced. This style of mosaic art production differed from either of the previous techniques.
Byzantine mosaic art differed from other forms in two distinct ways. First, Byzantine mosaics employed gold and silver foils. The addition of gold and silver reflected the light and produced a shimmering effect on visual representations.
Secondly, Byzantine mosaic art was composed using a new type of tesserae. Individual mosaics were not made from rocks or ceramics, which had been indicative of the Greco-Roman style; instead, Byzantine mosaics were largely composed using panels of opaque coloured glass, called smalti.
Byzantine mosaic art was used for the decoration of ceilings, floors, and walls, particularly in religious edifices. The Euphrasian Basilica contains mosaic art in its arch, vault, and floor.
First constructed during the sixth century, not only does the Euphrasian Basilica contain some of the most excellent examples of Byzantine mosaic art; it may very well also contain some of the earliest examples as well.