Ravenna: a living mosaic of art and nature

In the moonlight we travel through the valleys of the Po Delta. Ravenna, the true destination of the journey, is reached.” (G. Klimt)

Ravenna is a city to savor calmly, by bike or on foot, without haste, starting with a walk among the beautiful UNESCO monuments of the fifth and sixth centuries.
Few people know that it has been the capital of three empires: of the Western Roman Empire, of Theodoric King of the Goths, of the Byzantine Empire in Europe.
This past is testified by the basilicas and baptisteries of Ravenna, where the richest heritage of mosaics of humanity dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries is preserved; Ravenna has eight monuments included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The remains of Dante are preserved here, and not in Florence.

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia hides in a few square meters so beautiful mosaics, the oldest in Ravenna.
It was the emperor Onorio(who moved the capital of the western empire from Milan to Ravenna in 402) who wanted this mausoleum to dedicate it to his sister Galla Placidia.
The theme of the mosaics, is the victory of life over death, in accordance with the funerary destination of the building. But it is the starry sky reproduced on the vault that strikes most of all the visitors’ imagination and remains forever imprinted in their eyes.

It seems that the same thing happened to Cole Porter, who went to Ravenna on his honeymoon in the late ’20s. The story tells that it was the starry sky of the mausoleum that inspired him on the famous Night and Day.

The Basilica of San Vitale with its octagonal-shaped temple is one of the most important monuments of early Christian art in Italy.
Not only for the splendor of its mosaics but for the complete adherence to the canons of oriental art: there are no naves but only a central nucleus with an octagonal plan surmounted by a frescoed dome.
If you can take your eyes off the mosaics, you will notice on the ground a series of concentric circles with arrows: it is a labyrinth, as found in many Christian churches. It symbolizes the way out of sin towards purification.

The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, not to be confused with Sant’Apollinare in Classe which is located 8 km from Ravenna, hosts the largest mosaic cycle in the world.
The walls of the nave are divided into three distinct bands of mosaics: the upper band tells the life of Christ, the central band tells the life of Saints and Prophets and the lower band portrays the famous Palace of Theodoric.
The erasure of the figure of the Emperor and other characters, covered with white drapes, occurs when the basilica passes from the Aryan cult (for which it was built) to the Catholic cult.

On the opposite wall is portrayed the port of Classe, one of the most important in the Mediterranean at the time of the Roman Empire.

According to legend, the red porphyry basin on the upper floor of the Mausoleum of Theodoric is the same one in which the barbarian emperor died. Because he was afraid of lightning, on a storm day he took refuge in his mausoleum but lightning struck him just as he was taking a bath.
From the slit in the shape of an open cross in the roof of the Mausoleum, a black horse would have come and thrown him into Etna!
The two-storey structure with a decagonal shape and a massive roof made of a single block of stone makes it a unique monument, completely different from the brick buildings of Ravenna.

Among the basilicas of Ravenna, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, is the most imposing and majestic. The mosaics challenge for beauty those of the other churches of the city and depict Christ surrounded by the four evangelists, while the sheep symbolize the apostles.
The face of Jesus appears in the center of the Cross, in a round decorated with 99 stars. The whole representation takes place between the sky and the enchantment of a green paradise landscape full of rocks, trees, flowers and colorful birds.

Today the It is located 8 km from the center of Ravenna and a few kilometers from the sea, while when it was built it was on the seashore. Next to the basilica, in fact, there are the excavations of the large archaeological area of the ancient city of Classe, seat of the Roman fleet in the Adriatic Sea.

It usually starts with mixed cold cuts and squacquerone cheese, continues with cappelletti and tagliatelle with meat sauce, then moves on to meat, fish and seafood or guests of the abundant local canals, such as eels and frogs. We end with a mascarpone dessert and accompany everything with Albana, Sangiovese, Trebbiano or Pagadebit.