Ravenna; mosaics, mosaics everywhere!January 13, 2017 in Italy
Ravenna had a large car park with a stopover close to its old town. With 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, it had been highlighted as the place to see ancient Roman and Byzantine mosaics so we grabbed a quick lunch in the van and set off to explore.
We bought a combined card that allowed us entry to multiple sites, the first of which was the Basilica di San Vitale, a large church that was covered floor to ceiling with stunning mosaics and paintings. The ones on the walls and domed rooves depicting scenes and comprising of lustrous golds, blues and yellows that shone out in the light. The individual works of art were amazing, but all together, within a building whose construction was itself a work of art, the combined effect was breathtaking. We both thought this alone was worth the €19 we paid for the cards!
Accross the gardens from the basilica stood three stone tombs within Galla Placidia mausoleum. Each was placed within an arched alcove, whose upper walls and semi cylindrical dome was again decorated with shining mosaic tiles.
A bit stunned, we trekked accross Ravenna's cobbled streets to find the Arian Baptistry, a small building whose hemispherical ceiling had an incredible painting of Jesus' baptism with the twelve apostles. We were quite glad this was the only remarkable feature, because our senses were still overwhelmed by how much they'd taken in at the previous two sites. The art was beautiful in itself, but when you consider that it was created in the 6th century, making it about1500 years old, it was mind boggling!
On our way back to the van we took a route via Dante's tomb, which was enclosed within a small 18th century building, created for the poet, who finished his Divine Comedy here, after he was exiled from Florence.
Back at the van it began to rain, then sleet and then finally it began to snow! It laid a light covering on the ground but snow obviously wasn't a frequent occurrence in this region. We'd seen no grit bins or lorries and when the temperature dropped and black ice appeared, driving conditions became pretty hairy! Many drivers didn't seem to slow down and we spent the night listening to them skidding round the roundabout. There must have been a dozen who crashed into the high kerb at the side!
Unlike last night's cars, the ice didn't seem to be going anywhere fast when we woke the next morning, so we decided to ignore the stopover's time limit of 24 hours and stay another night. We certainly had plenty of things to keep us occupied!
The days activities included a visit to the beautifully decorated Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, whose main feature was its sparkling Byzantine mosaics, running the length of the 50m nave on both sides. The scenes on the right showed gift bearing male martyrs lined up to present Jesus with their offerings and on the left, women queued to present Mary with theirs. They looked in immaculate condition and were a feast for the eyes.
Returning home for lunch, Will got something called a Piadina from the nearby takeaway food hut. It was a huge folded flatbread, that was warmed in a pizza oven and could be filled with most sandwich fillings. Once we had it in front of us we realised we had bought a pack of them at a supermarket a few weeks back, thinking they were fajitas. We'd been most disappointed when we tried to roll them and they'd crumbled!
Reinvigorated after lunch we set out for the final time. In the 1990s the remains of a palace with 14 rooms had been discovered 3m below a church. Each had a mosaic floor from Byzantine times, the majority of which remained intact. It was named Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra (House of the stone carpets). Much of the floor displayed geometric patterns that Will loved mentally breaking down into their constituent parts. Some of it showed flowers but the memorable thing for Vicky is the image of the Dance of the 4 Seasons, depicted by 4 Spirits dancing in a circle to the music of pan pipes.
Darkness had crept up on us while we'd been underground and the previously quiet town streets were bustling with people. We wound our way past them to the church of San Franceso that contained a waterlogged crypt. We descended the steps at the head of the nave and put a euro in a machine. The previously dark space before us was now floodlit and we could see the white stone columns rising from the submerged mosaic floor to support the low ceiling. As if it needed an additional feature, there were goldfish swimming around in the 5ft deep pool of water!
Neither of us is religious and neither of us enjoy many museums, but there had been something captivating about seeing 1500 year old history in situe in the form of Ravenna's mosaics.Read more