Ravenna is a town of ancient significance. In the early middle ages in became the Western Outpost for the Byzantine Empire and orthodox church. But its fame does not end there. It also hosted many popes over the years, including Julius II during his warring years in the 1500s. It also is the actual burial place of Dante Alighieri, contrary to what the Florentines would have you believe.
Nowadays the town is quite modern, but the center still has the ancient feel. The attractions consist of a couple of churches, a mausoleum, and baptistery. These structures are 1500 years old or older, and feature mosaics which line the walls, floors and ceilings. They are very well reserved and are full of very interesting symbolism. They are considered by many to crossover from the Roman style of mosaics to the Christian style.
The places to look at in Ravenna are small, and unfortunately the day we went, packed with tourists. It felt very crowded. In all reality, the number of people was much fewer than other places we have visited, but it just felt more crowded.
The first place we visited was Sant’Appolinaire Nuovo. It is a Roman Basilica church with two long and sparkling mosaics down the wall in the inside. One shows a procession of virgins to pay homage to Mary; the other shows a long line of saints to greet Christ.
The next place we visited was Dante’s real tomb. I think the whole story behind this is funny. Dante was exiled from Florence because of his political beliefs, and died in Ravenna. Well, Florence had regrets, forgave Dante posthumously, and demanded back his remains. The people of Ravenna were not in agreement with this arrangement, so they hid Dante’s body in a church in a secret place so the Florentines could not steal it. Then they lost track of Dante’s body. It was not discovered until the 1800s, and Dante’s remains were finally put to rest.
The highlight of the trip was San Vitale, an exquisite Greek cross church. The interior is completely covered in mosaics. On either side of the alter on the walls are the famous Justinian and Theodora mosaics. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Justinian created a brief yet stable rule that provided an environment for Byzantium to flourish. In these mosaics, he shows that he and his wife rule the empire with God.
Here is the interior of the church.
Overall, Ravenna was a lovely day trip. It was awesome to see Christian structures that date from the 500s. The Baptistery was also very interesting because there was a huge Roman bath that had been converted to serve as the font, and was large enough to accommodate their practice of baptism by immersion. It seems immersion was the practice in the early church, yet changed and morphed over time.
It is also faith promoting to imagine all of the artisans, full of faith, who so carefully, thoughtfully, and beautifully made sacred places.
The only down side for the trip was that it was cold, windy, and rainy.
Here is a great candid of a tired Grandpa and Bryce.
What great adventures we are having!