Ravenna: a city of mosaics and mystery

Ravenna is a beautiful and historically significant city.  It was the seat of the Western civilization in Roman times (around the year 400).  The Byzantines took over in the 500s and left behind many awe-inspiring mosaics.  Most are in the basilicas and mausoleums there.  Ravenna is also the location of the tomb of Dante, a famous Italian poet and the man thought responsible for the Italian language.

Piazza del Popolo, the main piazza in Ravenna

We spent the evening on Saturday just taking in the city, walking around with no real purpose.  We did stumble upon the Basilica San Francesco, a beautiful old Franciscan church.  There was a cool mosaic inside the church, down underneath the altar under about a foot or two of water.  You had to climb the alter and then walk down into a small viewing platform.  It cost one Euro to turn on the light inside of the cave where the mosaic was hidden.




Afterwards, we found out that the tomb of Dante was around the corner so we stopped by to pay respects.  We hung out in Piazza di Popolo and listened to some street performers play Mumford and Sons with a slight Italian accent before heading to dinner.  Ravenna is the capital of the Emilia Romagna Province of Italy, so the food is amazing, and everything that we are used to in Scandiano.

Tomb of Dante


A wedding was going on in this church and the stairs were covered with rice and rose petals!

The next day, we tried to hit all of the major sights with the most intact mosaics.  We went to the Basilica di San Vitale, which was a large medieval church.  The mosaics were covering the entire ceiling and walls of the front of the church.  It was amazing and pictures just cannot do it justice.  It is only in person that you can really inspect each and every one of the tiles and get an idea of how difficult the whole process must have been.

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The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a small, unassuming structure across from the Basilica.   It ended up being one of the most amazing sights in Ravenna for me.  Each person is only allowed five minutes to look inside because it is temperature controlled to protect the art.  This small area has the largest collection of intact mosaics in Ravenna, and they cover the ceiling and walls of the tomb.  They were stunning pictures of stars, mythical animals, and stories from the bible.

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After seeing these two sights, we decided to try for one more, the Neonian Baptistery.  First, however, we meandered through a small botanical garden.  The baptistery was another small structure built in the year 400 and functioned as the place where pagan adults would come to join the Chrsitian faith.  Again, the mosaics were beautiful, old, and had so much character.  John the Baptist baptizing Christ in the river, beautiful flowers, and ornate designs.

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I love being in Italy, seeing these ancient pieces of art, being inspired by something that was done so long ago.  Feeling the history come alive gives us such a perspective into our modern lives.  We have to remember how fleeting life is, how special the arts are as a form of human communication and what this means for our relationship with the humankind of the future.


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