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I can see why everyone raves about Ravenna

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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.

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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.)

Comments (17)

Oh, it all sounds so wonderful (and how perfect to see Ravenna before you go to San Marco in Venice). Can't wait to hear more about the things you bought. Please say hello to Venezia for me (I really can't wait to hear about that!). Cheers!

Fascinating post,Sandra.
Thanks for sharing about Ravenna,which sounds like a wonderful place to visit.
The basilica looks great.And sorry about the heat, I hope it cools down for you.
Ah, I can't wait to see what you bought:)

Mindy Smith:

Sandra,

I knew you'd be gobsmacked in Ravenna! Hard to really explain until you see it all in person.

Glad you found Annafietta's. I bought 2 of the little mosaic boxes and a gorgeous blue cross. It is a beautiful store, recommended to Colleen and I by Marcello.

Ummm, perhaps the reason you weren't seated in the covered outdoor garden is that you didn't tell the staff you knew me.
We sat in a corner next to plants and flowers and George Clooney. So there.

**wink wink**......

as always, a joy to read your posts!!

Mindy

Great post Sandra! I am going to follow this same itinerary when I do a daytrip from Bologna to Ravenna this July. Hopefully the weather will cool down a little soon for you. Was Annafietta's easy to find? Sounds like a fun place to check out.

Hooray that you made it to the top of San Luca!! I hope you enjoyed the views and peacefulness there.

Enjoy Venezia!!

I am so enjoying reading about your trip. This area of Italy has moved high up on my list of places to visit as soon as I can 'swing it'.

I was wondering when you'd work 'gobsmacked' in *smile* it should be the word of the trip!

Oh I am so glad you are having a good time! Sounds like you really did the right thing by visiting Ravenna. And I am glad you generously bought some gifts - for yourself! :)

(Embarrassing confession: I have never been to Ravenna!)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, great to hear that you enjoyed your time in Ravenna. The history and mosaics are incredible to experience in person. You describe them so beautifully. I'm glad you had a chance to shop for some special things for you.

Have fun in Venice! Enjoy a glass of prosecco for us.

So happy to hear you enjoyed your time in Ravenna! It is really special. Shannon and I also sought out the baptisteries there, even though we were initially shocked by the mosaics of "naked Jesus." ;p

Palma:

Great post about Ravenna the the fabulous mosiacs. I'm so glad you enjoyed it (and did some shopping!).

sandrac:

Annie, the mosaics in San Marco were mind-boggling (as always.) I don't think anything in world is as beautiful as that basilica. However, while no single spot in Ravenna is so beautiful (in my opinion) it has the advantage of several different sites with lovely mosaics -- and far fewer visitors.

Candi, I'll post photos when I can actually download my own pix.

Thanks again, Mindy, for suggesting Annafietta's! The crosses were beautiful -- I'm envious! Besides some gifts for others (which I can't describe in case they read this) I bought a small bowl and a piece of art -- a long thin glass mosaic mounted on a piece of gold-painted wood, sort of a modern twist on classical objects.

And, of course, if George was with you, that would certainly get him into the best room at Ca'de'ven!

Girasoli, Annafietta's was very easy to find. It's on a lovely street only a block or two away from both San Vitale and the tapetti di pietra. If you go back to Ravenna, it's worth checking out!

Colleen, the naked Jesus was something else! I can see that it would cause a scandal (although I'm always taken aback by the breast-feeding Madonnas in medieval art. That somehow never looks quite right!)

Jerry, I think you, too, will enjoy this region (altho to be truly gob-smacked, I would argue you'll have to visit Umbria!!!)

nancyhol:

Sandra, the pictures are gorgeous! Now I want to go too!

PS - Did I miss the post about which bra became your favorite? I need some good ideas.

I am so glad you are having such a wonderful time! Ravenna is on my list of places I want to re-visit.

sandrac:

Nancy, I should do a proper bra follow-up (or perhaps a proper follow-up on bras!) I'm not sure I can say which will be my favourite -- they are both performing well, according to what they were designed to do! The Spanx bra is really ugly, but there are no seams that show through, no itchy fabric or chafing and it washes well in a bathroom sink!

With your photos and blogging, Ravenna has become a place I would love to experience. So, Bologna and Ravenna - two places I want to get to and have not yet seen. Waiting daily to read your jaunts. Happy trails, menehune

Anne:

Ravenna sounds amazing! I am so enjoying travelling along with you and discovering the wonders of places I haven't yet seen.

A couple from my church recently returned from Italy/Greece and we shared stories for a couple hours last night at our choir's end of year pot luck dinner. I am LONGING to return now (mind you when am I not?!) Definitely will be keeping Ravenna, Ferrara, Padua in mind.

Madeline Margraves:

Going to Bologna and Ravenna mid September 2009
Can't wait. Your words paint beautiful pictures.

sandrac:

Thanks everyone!

Madeline, I hope you have a wonderful time. They're both very interesting cities (in very different ways) Ravenna has so many sites with wonderful mosaics, it really is spectacular!

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