Mosaics and the beach

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Europe » Italy » Emilia-Romagna » Ravenna
April 29th 2014
Published: May 1st 2014
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We have our car back. I glanced out the window last night to see it driving into the hotel parking lot so Mel ran down to meet the driver and get the keys. The hire car goes back tomorrow morning so all is well again.

Having seen the amazing mosaics in the Basilica yesterday, we did a bit of research. Ravenna has 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the city. They are all either basilicas or mausoleums from the 5th and 6th centuries and they are famous for their mosaics. We had not heard of the place but we wanted to see more of these amazing artworks.

It is only a fairly small town so a walking tour to encompass all the major sights is the best bet. Central Ravenna is also a ‘ZTL’, which means if you don’t live there, you can’t drive there and the fines are not light!

We got our tickets for the five paid entry sites, and found out that there are about 15 school groups going through today… yippee. Hoping to avoid the bulk of them we set out for the further sites first, starting with the Arian Baptistery. Built around 480AD, Arianism was the official religion of the Roman court, and the belief was that Christ was the son of God but retained his human nature. The ceiling is decorated with another beautiful mosaic showing Christ and the 12 apostles.

Then it was on to the Basilica of Sant’Appolinaire Nuovo. This was built around the same time and the sides of the nave constitute the largest areas of mosaics on display. Showing the procession of the virgins and martyrs, they are apparently the most famous too. We made our way across the city to the Neonian Baptistery. This is the oldest monument in Ravenna dating to the end of the 4th century AD. The mosaics here show a Hellenic influence typical of the earlier time. Next door is St Andrew’s Chapel which is part of a museum complex. The museum shows pieces of recovered stonework and artefacts from many of the other religious buildings of Ravenna that are no longer standing. The small entry vestibule of the chapel is decorated with a mosaic of 99 different species of birds typical of the local area while the chapel itself is dominated by the images of Christ. Built by a bishop, Peter II, as his private chapel, this imagery has been interpreted as anti-arian despite the official court religion.

The last stops were the Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. The basilica is a large octagon with a cupola and a richly decorated apse to one side. The mosaics in the apse were certainly a favourite for us and the underside of the dome shows a beautiful Christian painted scene.

Galla Placidia’s Mausoleum is a small unassuming building to the side of the basilica but inside the entire ceiling in decorated with a mosaic starry sky. Galla Placidia was a daughter, sister, wife and mother of several Roman Emperors and as such she wielded great power, reigning over the Western section of the Roman Empire. Her sarcophagus and two others are interred within the mausoleum.

After the magnificence of all the mosaic work in Ravenna, I can thoroughly recommend a visit here to experience these truly amazing artworks. More than just paintings on a wall, standing beneath the ancient domes really leaves an impression.

We are staying tonight in the seaside resort town of Lido Adriano. It seems to be deserted but looks like it would be ridiculously busy in the summer. We had afternoon tea on the beach and Em had a couple of hours just running and playing in the sand to make up for dragging her through all the churches this morning!

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