I now see why so many people rave about Ravenna! I spent Thursday in this beautiful town near the Adriatic -- a short trip from Bologna, but a long trip back in time. Eight early Christian monuments in Ravenna, which were built roughly 1500 years ago, have been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
(Despite almost suffering heat stroke there on Thursday, today I hiked under the 666 porticos up to Bologna's wonderful Santuario della Madonna di San Luca and tonight, I'm going to the opera. Maybe Saturday's trip to Venice will be more restful!)
But back to Ravenna and the 6th century. My first stop was the Basilica of San Vitale, and I was truly gobsmacked by the incredible mosaics, exploding with colour even after 1,500 years. On a bright, sunny (painfully hot!) day, as Thursday was, the light at midday shining on these works was amazing.
The photos above and below are borrowed from the website of Ravennamosaici and were taken inside San Vitale. This relatively small basilica has been described as among the most important monuments of early Christian art in Italy, and is best known for its magnificent mosaics, strongly influenced by Byzantine artists.
This, I find fascinating.I spent a week in Istanbul a few years ago and saw nothing to rival the mosaics found all over Ravenna. In fact, the Byzantine influence also dominates much of the architecture throughout Ravenna.
The Basilica of San Vitale, built on a central octagonal plan, was founded by Giulianus Argentarius, commissioned by Bishop Ecclesius and consecrated by the Archbishop Maximian in 548. Eye-popping!
That said, I think if I had to pick favourites (and I always do -- even now, I have a new favourite bra) my favourite site in Ravenna was the tiny, perfect Arian Baptistery. Baptistries always seem mystical to me, with their octagonal plans, art works and the offerings of the beginning of a new life (in the spiritual sense.) Yet, they are often overlooked.
As well, the recently excavated Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra in central Ravenna was quite amazing, with large floor mosaics found largely intact. It reminded me a bit of the wonderful Roman mosaics in Bevagna.
On a more practical note, I finally did some shopping -- this, after a full week in Italy! I stocked up on some gifts (mostly for me) at Annafietta's, which produces some gorgeous mosaic jewelry, boxes, bowls and such.
I also had a wonderful lunch at Ca' de' Ven. Unfortunately, it was only after lunch, on my way to the washroom, that I discovered the restaurant has a beautiful covered garden. However, I got the sense that that area is set aside for regulars (as is often the case.)
Ravenna has a fascinating history. It once served as the seat of the Western Roman Empire and later, the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the Exarchate of Ravenna. It's a bit unclear who the earliest settlers were, perhaps the Umbrians. Ravenna originally consisted of homes built on piles on a series of small islands in a marshy lagoon, something like Venice's development some centuries later.
In 49 BC, Ravenna was the site where Julius Caesar gathered his forces before crossing the Rubicon. The city later become an important military harbour, and remained a seaport on the Adriatic until the early Middle Ages (which helps to explain the Eastern influences in the city.)