This enormous basilica's imposing interior is richly decorated, filled with tombs, works of art, and inlaid checkerboard marble flooring. It's all there to honor one man, Padua's patron Saint Anthony. Simply and commonly referred to as "il Santo," Anthony was born in Lisbon in 1195 and died just outside of Padua in 1231. Work began on the church almost immediately but was not completed until 1307. Its eight domes bring to mind the Byzantine influence found in Venice's St. Mark's Basilica. A pair of octagonal, minaret-like bell towers enhances its Eastern appearance. Donatello's seven bronze statues and towering central Crucifixion (1444-48) that adorn the main altar are the basilica's artistic highlights.
The faithful could care less about the architecture and art; they flock here year-round to caress the tomb holding the saint's body (off the left aisle) and pray for his help in finding what they've lost. The tomb is always covered with flowers, photographs, and handwritten personal petitions left by devout pilgrims from every corner of the globe. The series of nine bronze bas-reliefs of scenes from the saint's life are some of the finest works by 16th-century northern Italian sculptors.
In his lifetime, St. Anthony was known for his eloquent preaching, so interpret as you will the saint's perfectly (some say miraculously) preserved tongue, vocal chords, and jawbone on display in the Cappella del Tesoro in the back of the church, directly behind the main altar. These treasured relics are carried through town in a traditional procession every June 13 to celebrate the feast day of il Santo. You'll also see one of his original tattered tunics dating from 1231.
In front of the basilica across the large piazza, standing out amid the smattering of stalls selling St. Anthony-emblazoned everything, is Donatello's famous Gattamelata equestrian statue. The first of its size to be cast in Italy since Roman antiquity, it is important for its detail, proportion, and powerful contrast between rider (the inconsequential Venetian condottiere Erasmo da Narni, nicknamed the "Spotted Cat") and horse. It was a seminal work that influenced Renaissance sculpture and casting and restored the lost art of equestrian statuary.