For our second trip from Bologna, we spent a day in Ravenna, a quiet, historic town about an hour south. We wanted to go to Ravenna for two reasons: one, it would allow us to experience the quiet, non-crazy side of Italy, and two, according to Rick Steves it had a spectacular church.
Those were our reasons for visiting, but we found much more once we arrived. So without further ado, here is Ravenna!
This is Ravenna, a quaint little town where locals walk and ride bikes in the middle of the street. Try this in Rome or Bologna and you’ll be dead in five seconds.
Europe loves squares, Italy perhaps most of all. And so even a small city like Ravenna has a grand one.
Strangely, one of the things we didn’t know about Ravenna is what the city is most famous for: mosaics. Ravenna contains some of the oldest and grandest mosaics in the world, and the city was actually the mosaic capital of the world for about 100 years following the fall of Rome.
Note that the above mosaics are modern, for historic mosaics, see below!
Here it is, the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna’s grandest church and one of the most spectacular churches in the world. This church is huge and was built almost 1500 years ago; it is also completely covered with mosaics, by far the most stunning mosaics Inna and I have ever seen.
Detail work around the altar. This church was amazing!
Next to the Basilica of San Vitale is this building, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. This mausoleum was built around 430 AD, making it one of the oldest religious buildings in Italy.
These mosaics, located inside the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, are considered the oldest, best preserved, and some of the most artistically perfect mosaics in the world.
Religious history time! It takes a lot to explain this one, but I’ll try to keep it short.
Above is the Arian Baptistery, a baptistery that goes all the way back to the Arian controversy (around 300 AD), in which Arius, a priest in Alexandria, held that if Jesus was the son of God, that would imply a hierarchy between Jesus and God, and it would also imply a time before Jesus when there was only God. These ideas fractured the church, who held an emergency meeting, where they came up with the idea of the Holy Trinity (God existing simultaneously in three states: God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit). However, not all Christians accepted this, and one of the non-acceptors, Constantius II, was the emperor’s son, later to become emperor himself. Another was Valens, who became emperor two years after Constantius II.
This all occurred around the fourth and fifth centuries AD, the same time the Roman empire was collapsing. As the empire collapsed, the capital bounced around, eventually landing in Ravenna. At this point, the above baptistery was built. Shortly afterward however, the Roman Empire fell completely, Arianism was wiped out, and the Arian Baptistry was converted to a Chalcedonian oratory.
That is all, hope that wasn’t too much and that you were able to follow it! I should also note that I am not a historian so certain details and timelines could be off, but the gist is correct and this is the most complicated piece of history I have ever blogged about.
Another baptistery with even more mosaics. This is the Orthodox Baptistery, also called the Baptistery of Neon. It is the oldest building in Ravenna and was built atop a Roman bath.
The final religious building we visited in Ravenna was the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. This church was built during the end of the Arian era, in the early sixth century, and it is of significance because its art and architecture fused contemporary eastern and western styles; it is one of the only surviving buildings in this architectural style.
Finally, while Ravenna is all about mosaics and religious history, it does have one other claim to fame: final resting place of Dante. Writer of the Divine Comedy (generally considered the greatest work of Italian writing), Dante’s body is currently housed in the tomb pictured left, although during WWII it was housed in the mound pictured right. At one point Florence wanted Dante’s body transferred to their city (Dante was a citizen of Florence but was expelled during political infighting), but Ravenna refused, and so here is where Dante’s body remains.
This marks the end of our visit to Ravenna, a beautiful and relaxing city that offered way more than we expected. The mosaics in particular were spectacular, and not just the religious ones, we also loved the ones for sale in art shops. We would definitely like to own some of these once our year of travel is complete and we go back to living at our place! But that’s not for a while, and up next, we’re visiting Milan!