In Italy, Spain, Greece, Lebanon and Cyrenaica, the floor is on a level with the aisles or slightly raised. The discrepancy is made up by steps at the front or at the two sides and is much greater in N Syria and in Africa. Beneath the apse, esp. when the difference in height is considerable, are sometimes crypts, whose purpose can vary cult of martyrs, funerary, sometimes even baptistery. This custom would become general in the West in the Carolingian era see below.
The wall of the apse, which in N Africa is generally windowless, in Greece, Italy and Syria is pierced by windows, which sometimes form a genuine clerestory, as at S. Giovanni Evangelista, Ravenna. The roof of the apse is usually a semidome made of concrete, of squared shaped stones, or of light materials vaults of terracotta tubes embedded and bound together by plaster at Ravenna, Rome, Grado, in Sicily and in N Africa, resting on an arch often called a triumphal arch, which in turn rests on two great side columns, or in a wall-partition supported by four columns with three unequal arches. The vault may be protected by a roof or, as often happens in Africa, simply coated outside with a layer of whitewash like the domes of Muslim mosques.
Some mosaic images exist which show towers framing the apse. At Aquileia and in a whole series of churches in the N Adriatic area, there is no apse at all see below. To these elements, essential to the makeup of the Christian basilica, other parts may be added whose existence depends on regional customs or particular requirements.
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