Europe Photoblogging, Part 18: Ravenna
By Dwip September 25, 2014, 10:18 am Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

As these things go the city of Ravenna, whose Piazza del Popolo we are looking at, is not the most major city in the world. Its central city is fairly small, and it lacks the reknown of the more major Renaissance cities.

But looks can be decieving. Ravenna was once the capital of the Roman Empire for its last 75 years, and then it was one of the main cities of Byzantine Italy for 200 years until the Lombards took it over in 751.

Remember how I’m big into the Romans and the Byzantines? I think you see where this is headed.

After originally planning to only spend a day, I filled up 6/23 and 6/24/04 with sightseeing after my disastrous day in Venice. My adventures in Ravenna are chronicled here.

This is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, who was the daughter of one Roman Emperor (Theodosius I), the brother of another (Honorius), the mother of another (Valentinian III), and wife of kings and emperors. She was a big deal in 5th century Roman politics.

For all that, this little brick building doesn’t look like much. Get used to that feeling, because lots of Ravenna is going to feel like this.

As with many other things in Ravenna, the interior is filled with mosaics. They’re kind of dark from the low light, but you can see the level of craftsmanship evident even in the declining days of the Western Empire. The other four wings and the middle are just as ornate.

This is the Basilica of San Vitale, which is right near the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and dates from about a century after her death, in the early 6th century.

It is, as we will see in a moment, also very justly famous for some things.

This is one end of the interior, which is a combination of earlier Byzantine work and much much later Renaisance work from a thousand years later.

Which, take a moment and think about that one.

This is more of the interior. The front bit are mosaic portraits of Christ, the Apostles, and the two sons of Saint Vitalis. Those are Byzantine. The central dome is Renaisance work.

This is the apse of San Vitale, showing some of the magnificent Byzantine mosaics, the absolute best to be found outside Constantinople. These are the whole reason why I am here.

The golden splendor of the mosaics in St. Mark’s were astounding in one way. These are astounding in quite another.

These are detailed insets of the mosaics in the apse. The first is the emperor Justinian and his court, while the second is the emperess Theodora and her ladies in waiting.

Like the Tetrarchs in Venice, these two mosaics are extremely famous. Any book about the Byzantines or Justinian will feature these two mosaics either on the cover or somewhere in the interior. By the time I was standing in this spot, I had seen them both many times.

Again, I am standing in front of two of the most major pieces of art in the discipline I had just spent the last eight odd years studying. The Italian portions of this trip are essentially a pilgrimage for me, and you should think of them that way. I’m not in the least religious, but this is a religious experience of a sort.

I relied heavily on postcards this time about as well. This is a much brighter view of the apse, maybe a little too bright.

Somebody did a lot of work on those mosaics.

This is one wall of the Venetian fortress in the center of the city, or at least what’s left of it, from when the Venetians ruled the city.

This is a random cool little doorway in one of the towers in the fortress. There’s not much to see there, but it was a pleasant little diversion.

This massive structure is the Mausoleum of Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogoth king who created a kingdom in Italy with the blessing of the Byzantines in the decades after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. As you can see, it’s of a much different sort of construction than the various Roman buildings in the city.

For those of you playing at home, this is #3 of 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna that we’ve seen so far, after the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and San Vitale. We’ll get to most of them before we’re done.

This is the interior of the Mausoleum of Theodoric, showcasing the porphyry sarcophagus of the king. Aside from that there’s not much left – it got looted at one point, and then turned to various other uses. But this again is extremely famous in my line of study, and I’d seen many pictures of it previously.

This rather unassuming church is the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, once the palace chapel of Theodoric the Great, and part of the building boom that took place here in the 5th and 6th centuries. Like everything else from that boom period, it’s made of a rather characteristic brick.

And, like everything else, it’s amazing inside, because it’s #4 on our list of of UNESCO sites. Like San Vitale, this is a fusion of Byzantine (both sides) and later (ceiling, apse) styles. Like San Vitale, the effect is spectacular, though Sant’Apollinare benefits from slightly more light.

This is a mosaic from the right wall, depicting the palace of Theodoric, above which are various saints and prophets and such, above which are depictions of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. They took their visual symbolism very seriously back in the day.

This is the rest of the wall, depicting an assortment of martyrs.

This is detail of the apse, about which I used to know a great deal more than I do. One of the things I was very impressed by is how well the earlier Byzantine elements meshed with the later baroque elements without losing their own identities. It’s like these people knew what they were doing.

This tiny little building in this alley turns out to be the tomb of Dante Alighieri, who most of us know for having written the Divine Comedy. That’s the cool thing about Ravenna – there’s always some random little hugely significant thing around the corner.

This is the Neonian Baptistry, yet another late Roman-era structure. I realize I’m a bit of a broken record by this point, but these buildings really aren’t all that spectacular when viewed from the outside. They’re nice, but not overwhelming.

This is the interior dome, showing that if it’s a random brick structure in Ravenna, there are insanely good mosaics inside of it. These depict the Apostles surrounding John the Baptist performing his namesake ritual on Christ.

Moving down a bit, the upper part of the baptistry, showing the ornate scrollwork and carvings.

Still further down, more opulence, with the baptismal font at the bottom of the picture, which gives the building its name.

This postcard shows the overall effect of the Neonian Baptistry’s mosaics. It must have been a hell of a thing to get baptized here. Maybe a bit overawing.

This is the interior dome of the Arian Baptistry, originally constructed by our old friend Theodoric. Like the Neonian Baptistry, this mosaic depicts the Apostles and the baptism of Jesus. Unlike the other baptistry, however, that’s pretty much all there is – things kind of went downhill a bit after the Arian sect died down, and it spent a lot of years being something other than a baptistry.

This is UNESCO site #6 on our tour, of 8. I hit #7 but no pictures.

And here is random stuff from Ravenna. L/R, T/B, you know the drill.

* Ticket from two of Ravenna’s museums, of which I remember little.

* Ticket to get me into all of the various Diocese of Ravenna churches. This may be the best 6.50 euros ever spent.

* Entry ticket to another museum, wherein I got the full tour by an Italian guard I didn’t understand.

* My train ticket from Venice to Ravenna.

* Pamphlet from the Domus del Triclinio, one of the museums in Ravenna.

* My tourist map of Ravenna. You can see that central Ravenna isn’t all that big, and there are a fair number of sights to go and see.

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