A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Istanbul, which is a fascinating city. I actually prefer the city's original name, Byzantium. To me, that sounds so much more exotic and conjures images of a fascinating period during the final centuries of the Roman Empire. For it was Roman Emperor Constantine I who changed the name of Byzantium to Nova Roma in about 330 and after his death, it was changed again to Constantinople( the city of Constantine).
Just a few hundred years later, artistic attention shifted to Ravenna. Briefly a capital of eastern Rome during its fall, Ravenna became a western outpost of the Byzantine Empire in about 540 under the Byzantine emperor Justinian. I definitely felt that connection between ancient Byzantium and modern Italy when I visited Ravenna in mid-June.
I've written before about my day trip to Ravenna, which is almost on the Adriatic Sea, not too far south of Venice. But today, I thought I would add my own photos from my visit, as well as a bit more history gleaned from a wonderful book simply titled Ravenna and loaned to me by Colleen (a fellow Slow Traveler.)
I took the top two photos in Ravenna's Neonian Baptistry, a small jewel box and the most ancient remaining monument in Ravenna (Colleen's book suggested it might have been built over a Roman bath.) Completed at the end of the 5th century, this was also my favourite site in all of Ravenna.
The very top photo shows the mosaic covering the domed ceiling in the Baptistry (which is one of eight Ravenna structures designed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.) The ceiling mosaic depicts John the Baptist baptizing Jesus as He stands waist-high in the Jordan River, depicted as veils. To one side stands a pagan water god with a reed in one hand and a garment in the other, representing the Jordan. A procession of the twelve apostles is shown in a circle around the center mosaic, ending with Saint Peter meeting Saint Paul.
The second top photo shows one of the eight columns that circle the interior, and covered with an arabesque mosaic of acanthus leaves.
Ravenna once served as the seat of the Western Roman Empire and later, the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the Exarchate of Ravenna. In 49 BC, Ravenna was the site where Julius Caesar gathered his forces before crossing the Rubicon. Ravenna 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.)
The above photo is from the most famous of Ravenna's sights, the Basilica of San Vitale. It shows mosaics in the bowl-shaped vault of the apse and depicts Christ, the Redeemer, sitting on the celestial globe. The mosaics in San Vitale are incredibly lively, with rich colours and vivid depictions of the landscape, plants and birds.
San Vitale has been described as among the most important monuments of early Christian art in Italy, and is perhaps best known for its magnificent mosaics, strongly influenced by Byzantine artists. The basilica, built on a central octagonal plan, was founded by Giulianus Argentarius, commissioned by Bishop Ecclesius and consecrated by the Archbishop Maximian in 548
The above photo, also from San Vitale, shows the Emperor Justinian, with other important figures including the archbishop Maximian, representing imperial religious politics.
This rather blurry photo (above) is of mosaics in the presbytery showing Moses receiving the sacred tables from Mount Sinai -- part of a larger piece showing various scenes from the Bible.
Continuing that same theme, this photo shows details from the life of Abraham; specifically, Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son.
Even the floors in San Vitale are decorated with beautiful mosaics!
There were so many other gorgeous sites where I couldn't get photos, including the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. But what visit to Ravenna would be complete without quick stop at the tomb of the brilliant Dante Alighieri whose funeral was held there in1321.