Ravenna Boasts Rich History Recorded in Mosaics
by Leo A. Zabinski, CTC, MCC, DS
Less than 100 miles south of Venice lies the stately old city of Ravenna, Italy. I had the chance to spend a day there earlier this year. While now inland, Ravenna was once a port on the Adriatic Sea. Over time the marsh and channels around Ravenna dried out and now only a recently created industrial canal connects it to the sea.
Ravenna has a rich history proven by the eight World Heritage Sites it contains. In 402, as the Roman Empire was declining, Emperor Honorious moved the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna. One of the most impressive sites is the Mausoleum of Galla Placida. She was the sister of the Emperor Honorious and the wife of Emperor Constantius III. All three may rest in this small building with an unremarkable red brick exterior; however, the inside is solid mosaics. The deep blue and gold ceiling especially catches the light and glitters thru the centuries. These are early mosaics (424-430) and do not reflect full blown Byzantine influence. Yet their realism makes the images come alive.
By contrast the church of San Vitale, a short walk away, built in 547, reflects all the glory of Byzantine style in its breathtaking mosaics. On the ceiling, ruling over all, is a mosaic of Christ the King. Below and around him mosaics of the Emperor Justinian, his wife Theodora, the Bishop of Ravenna, and Saint Vitale. Simply put, Ravenna at these and other sites throughout the city has some of the world's greatest mosaics.
Ravenna has another claim to fame that interested me. When the great medieval poet Dante was exiled form Florence, he moved to Ravenna and lived there until his death in 1321. His tomb remains in Ravenna despite constant efforts of the Florentines to reclaim his earthly remains. Ravenna's answer is "Florence did not welcome Dante in life, so it doesn't deserve him in death!"
The icing on the cake for my trip to Ravenna was later that day when I went to a wonderful local restaurant. We were the only tourists in the place. The waiter spoke little English, but there was an English menu. On the way out I picked up a brochure that told me the building dated from the twelfth century and it served as an Inn until the mid 1300's - one of its patrons was Dante.
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