Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ravenna's Early Christian & Byzantine Mosaics

Of Emilia-Romagna's artistic jewels, few shine brighter than Ravenna’s early Christian and Byzantine mosaics. Described as a symphony of color in Dante's Divine Comedy, Ravenna's well-preserved mosaics are some of the finest remaining in the Western world, and date to Ravenna’s golden age as an early Christian centre. Located on the Adriatic coast in North-East Italy, Ravenna was briefly the capital of the Roman Empire and later the Italian capital of the Byzantine Empire. Ravenna rose to power in the 1st-century BC under Emperor Augustus, who built a port and naval base at nearby Classe. Briefly a capital of eastern Rome during its fall, Ravenna was taken by the barbarians. Then, in A.D. 540, the Byzantine emperor Justinian turned Ravenna into the western most pillar of the Byzantine Empire. 

6th-century mosaic of Jesus
at the Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna

A pinnacle of civilization in that age, Ravenna was a light in Europe's Dark Ages, when the city grew into a glittering showcase for Byzantine art and culture. Today, Ravenna is a very pleasant town of about 140,000. It looks much like any other Italian city at first glance, with old streets, fine shops and peaceful squares, but the Byzantine domes of its churches still evoke its Eastern heritage. Ravenna's early Christian churches and mosaics have been collectively designated a World Heritage Site. 

The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna

The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in western Europe, and one of eight Ravenna structures listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church is most famous for its spectacular wealth of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside of Istanbul. This church was the prototype for Istanbul's Hagia Sophia built 10 years later, and it inspired Charlemagne to build the first great church in northern Europe in his capital of Aix-la-Chapelle.

The mosaics inside of San Vitale

San Vitale's apse mosaics show Christ, two angels and Bishop Ecclesius with St Vitalis being handed a martyr's crown by Christ. Bishop Ecclesius is depicted because he began the church of San Vitale.

A detail of the Apse 

The left transcept

The right transcept

The extraordinary detail of one of the columns

The dome of San Vitale is painted, 
in contrast to much of the church being detailed with mosaics

The floor of San Vitale is made entirely of mosaics

Located in the backyard of San Vitale is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, also known for its ancient and breathtaking mosaics. The small brick structure dates from around 430 AD, making it one of the oldest monuments in Ravenna. While on his honeymoon in Ravenna in the 1920s, Cole Porter wrote "Night and Day" while thinking of the starry sky of Galla Placidia. 

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

The interior mosiacs of Galla Pacidia

The carved stone ossuary with the remains of Galla Placidia

Originally built in 1869, Ravenna’s Mercato Coperto stands in an area of the city that has been historically known for its markets dating back to the 5th century A.D. The construction of a covered market at this site was first completed in 1869, but when enlargement was necessary a few decades later, the market was rebuilt from scratch. The existing structure is from this latest construction, which was completed in 1922. To this day, the freshest of produce, flowers, fish, meats and other home-related products, from the region and elsewhere, are sold to locals and visitors alike. The pride and joy of Ravenna is Piadina, which is a thin flatbread made from white flour, olive oil, salt and water and is a specialty of the Romagna region. Although many accounts attribute the origin of the piadina to ancient times, the modern piadina as it is enjoyed today, was created around 1371 when it was adopted as the people’s bread of Romagna. A Piadina from Ravenna is usually a bit thicker than those from other areas of Romagna, and often contain cheese, herbs, and cured meats. 

Mercato Coperto

One of the vegetable stalls inside the market

Fabulous local artichokes

One of Ravenna's cobblestone streets

My first glimpse of a pink Vespa!

Dante's Tomb

Dante's wanderings around Italy after his exile from Florence eventually brought him to Ravenna, where he died in 1321. A lamp in his sepulcher is fed by oil given by the city of Florence.

The interior of Dante's Tomb

Ravenna Duomo and Battistero degli Ariani

Duomo interior and ceiling detail

The 5th-century Baptistry 

The cupola of the Baptistry is a mosaic showing the Apostles ringed around 
a centrepiece depicting the Baptism of Christ

Basilica Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo

The glorious 6th-century Basilica of Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo, named after the first bishop of Ravenna, is dominated by two rows of mosaics showing the Three Kings, virgins and martyrs bearing gifts for Christ and the Virgin.

The interior of Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo

Detail of the 'Three Kings' mosaic

The elaborate apse of Sant'Apollinaire, equally fantastic, 
gets eclipsed by the Basilica's superb mosiacs

Bustling Piazza del Popolo

A mamma and bambino feeding the birds in the Piazza

Ristorante Bella Venezia di Bazzani in Ravenna

The menu with dishes from the local Romagnan tradition

We decided to go Tuscan with our wine selection this time, with a 2009 Chianti Classico

Insalate Caprese

Cappeletti alle Ragu, which are rather like large ravioli

Crostata di Manza, a grilled porterhouse steak

Nodino Bazzani, a veal chop topped with prosciutto in a cognac cream sauce, 
a house specialty of the brother and sister Bazzani team - the brother 
is the chef and the sister is 'front of house'

A contorni of Spinaci con burro e parmigiana

A second contorni of Fagioli Barlotti - looks boring but they were al dente and delicious

The Dolci Mista, a mixture of Zabaglione, Crema Catalania, Tiramisu, 
Torta di Marmalade and Biscotti

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