Floor plan of a basilica
basilica [key], large building erected by the Romans for transacting business and disposing of legal matters. Rectangular in form with a roofed hall, the building usually contained an interior colonnade, with an apse at one end or at each end. The central aisle tended to be wide and was higher than the flanking aisles, so that light could penetrate through the clerestory windows. The oldest known basilica was built in Rome in 184 b.c. by the elder Cato. Other early examples are the Basilica Porcia in Rome and one at Pompeii (late 2d cent. b.c.). Probably the most splendid Roman basilica is the one constructed during the reign of Maxentius and finished by Constantine after 313. In the 4th cent. Christians began to build edifices for worship that were related to the form of the basilicas. These had a center nave with one aisle at each side and an apse at one end: on this platform sat the bishop and priests. Basilicas of this type were built not only in Western Europe but in Greece, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine. A good example of the Middle Eastern basilica is the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (6th cent.). The finest basilicas in Rome were St. John Lateran and St. Paul's-outside-the-Walls (4th cent.), and San Clemente (6th cent.). Gradually there emerged the massive Romanesque churches, which still retained the fundamental plan of the basilica.
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