Make plans to visit Ravenna if you want to see amazing glistening mosaics.
“It has a unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments. All eight buildings – the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neonian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Church of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe – were constructed in the 5th and 6th centuries. They show great artistic skill, including a wonderful blend of Graeco-Roman tradition, Christian iconography and oriental and Western styles.” UNESCO
Ravenna was initially the seat of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Visigoth Empire and finally the Byzantine Italian Empire under Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora until the 8th century. Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire for 150 years.
In 402 A.D., the Roman Emperor Honorius transferred the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna for security purposes and the city engaged in a imperial face-lift. The Galla Placidia Mausoleum was built in the 5th century as a family tomb by the Empress with magnificent mosaics in gold and peacock blue. When Cole Porter was on his honeymoon in Ravenna, he was so moved by the mosaics that he wrote the legendary song “Night and Day” about the 900 glistening stars in the copula.
Here’s the UNESCO Long Description of each building in Ravenna:
“The early Christian religious monuments in Ravenna are of outstanding significance by virtue of the supreme artistry of the mosaic art that they contain, and also because of the crucial evidence that they provide of artistic and religious relationships and contacts at an important period of European cultural history.
In the reign of Augustus the port of Classis was established at Ravenna. Following the barbarian invasions of the 5th century, Honorius made it his capital. His sister, Galla Placidia, lived in Ravenna during her widowhood in the first half of the 5th century, and made it a centre of Christian art and culture. With the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in 476, Ravenna entered into a period of prosperity and influence. It was taken by Belisarius in 540 and remained the centre of Byzantine control in Italy until 752. Its subsequent history was one of decline and stagnation. After 1441 it was under Venetian and then papal rule.
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, built in the second quarter of the 5th century, has a plain bare exterior lightened by pilasters that meet in arches and is crowned by a brick dome concealed by a small quadrangular tower. The interior is lavishly decorated. The lower part is clad in panels of yellow marble and the remainder is entirely covered in mosaics. The building is in the western Roman architectural tradition.
The Neonian Baptistery, built by Bishop Orso in the early 5th century, was decorated with mosaics by his successor, Neone, around 450. The interior consists of four apses, articulated into two orders of arches, rising to the great cupola. The large mosaic medallion at the apex of the dome shows the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. This is the finest and most complete surviving example of the early Christian baptistry.
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo was built in the early years of the 6th century. Inside the interior is divided by 24 marble columns into a nave and two aisles, with a rounded apse. At the present time mosaics cover the two side walls at the foot of the nave, from the ceiling to the tops of the supporting arches, in three decorated fascias. Those in the upper two fascias are in traditional Roman style whereas those in the third show strong Byzantine influence.
The Arian Baptistery, built by Theodoric next to his cathedral, was reconsecrated with the overthrow of the Arian heresy in 561 and became an oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is a small brick building, octagonal in plan with four flat sides and four with protruding apses. Only the dome retains its mosaic decoration. The iconography of the mosaics is of importance in that it illustrates the Trinity, a somewhat unexpected element in the art of an Arian building as the Trinity was not accepted in this doctrine.
The Archiepiscopal Chapel, the private oratory of the orthodox bishops, was built around 500. The chapel is in the shape of a Greek cross with an apse on the eastern arm; it is covered by a cross-vault and preceded by a rectangular vestibule. The Iower part of the walls is covered with marble, with mosaics above.
The Mausoleum of Theodoric wasbuilt by Theodoric shortly before his death in 526. It is in two storeys, the lower 10-sided with a niche and a small window in each side. The significance of the mausoleum lies in its style and decoration, which owe nothing to Roman or Byzantine art, although it makes use of the Roman stone-construction technique of opus quadratum , which had been abandoned four centuries before. It is the unique surviving example of a tomb of a barbarian king of this period.
The Church of San Vitale was completed around 547. It was fronted by a large quadroportico, converted into a cloister when the church became part of a Benedictine monastery. There are two storeys, the upper one encircling the dome. The apse, which is semi-circular on the interior and polygonal on the outside, is flanked by two small rectangular rooms terminating in niches and two semi-circular sacristies.
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe was built in the first half of the 6th century, commissioned by Bishop Ursicinus. The narthex is incorporated in the central body of the facade, framed by two pilasters.” UNESCO
I loved the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo that was erected by Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great as his palace chapel during the 6th century. There are magnificent mosaics, depicting Jesus’ miracles and parables; and the Passion and Resurrection.
When UNESCO inscribed the church on the World Heritage List, its claimed: “both the exterior and interior of the basilica graphically illustrate the fusion between the western and eastern styles characteristic of the late 5th to early 6th century. This is one of the most important buildings from the period of crucial cultural significance in European religious art”.
Ravenna’s proximity to the sea and unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments make it an incredibly desirable travel destination. The Torre del Pubblico leans more than the Tower of Pisa. Dante’s tomb is located on Via Dante Alighieri. Beautiful beaches are found in the Punta Marina di Ravenna.
Ravenna flourished under the Byzantine Empire. All eight artistically noteworthy buildings including: the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neonian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Church of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe were constructed in the 5th and 6th centuries.
The octagonal baptistery contains a beautiful mosaic of John the Baptist and Christ.
Ravenna’s mosaics are considered to be the finest in the world outside Istanbul. “The artistry of the mosaics and monuments presents an enlightened blend of Greco-Roman, Christian iconography, oriental and Western genres. Ravenna provides a glimpse into artistic and religious relationships during an important period of European cultural history.” UNESCO
The Basilica of San Vitale is amazing! The church was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 526, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths. The church has an octagonal plan.
Ravenna offers an array of annual events including the prestigious summer “Ravenna Festival” with opera performances, classical music and ballet. In September, the Basilica of San Francesco conducts Progetto Dante: “La Divina Commedia nel Mondo” with readings from Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Basilica was built in the 5th century and completely re-built between the 10th and 11th centuries. Dante Alighieri’s funeral was held here in 1321.
If you need some nourishment between mosaics, go to Ca de Ven. This enoteca in Romagne was outstanding! Make plans to attend the Giovinbacco Festival in November @ www.giovinbacco.it in the Province of Ravenna when they celebrate the evolution of Sangiovese de Romagna wine.
In the peaceful Piazza dell Popola, or beside the Marina di Ravenna, you can enjoy a pleasant “Vino con Vista.” Have a glass of Rosso Ravenna, Bianco Ravenna or Sangiovese de Romagna Superiore Riserva with your Parmigiano Reggiano. Ravenna is famous for its olive oil from Brisighella, and the vineyards from prestigious Albana.
Think about that Ducati or Ferrari you’ve had your eye on as you watch the Italians enjoy their testosterone infused rides. If you prefer, you can plan your next mosaic tile project as you sip your delicious Lambrusco at one of the charming cafes.
If you dine at Gigiole on Piazza Couvour or Antica Trattoria al Gallo 1909 on via Maggione, try some Tagliatelle Bolognese. In this region, they love cheese and butter; so don’t forget to take your cholesterol medication.
Dine at the Buon Ricordo destination at the Ristorante Hotel Tino in Massa Lombarda @ Via Resistenza, 22 (www.tinomassalombarda.it). The “Ossobuco del Cavaliere” comes with a charming collector plate depicting a knight on horseback. The veal is served with saffron risotto. Dine in the charming courtyard of this hotel.
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides to Italy.
To learn more about Italy read www.vino-con-vista.com Travel Guides.