Exploring Ravenna | SU Florence All-School Trip

Last Friday, I visited a beautiful seaside town in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region: Ravenna. Its mosaics – many in the ancient Byzantine style, though some go back even further – are among the most famous in the world.

Inside Ravenna's Basilica of San Vitale.
Inside Ravenna’s Basilica of San Vitale.

Our first stop was the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in the nearby town of Classe, just outside Ravenna. This 6th century mixture of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture sports a large, open nave with an incredibly detailed and colorful apse. It’s decorated with – you guessed it – mosaics. While we were there, we listened to a brief introduction to early Christianity, the Roman Empire (Ravenna was once its capital!) and the art of the mosaic.

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The west side of the basilica, where the entrance is.
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Looking toward the apse from the back of the church.
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This mosaic was designed so that the viewer feels like he/she is looking into a dream world.

Then, we made our way into historic Ravenna, where we split into smaller groups to explore a whole host of attractions. My group first stopped at the Neonian Orthodox Baptistery, the oldest structure in the city. It’s so old (think built-in-the-300s-old) that the ground has since risen 10 feet. While our tour guide said that seeing it from 10 feet lower would have made it seem more impressive, I think that it gave us the chance to see the details better.

There, we learned about the traditional eight-sided blueprint that most baptisteries followed back then, the time period that this one was constructed in, and the symbolism behind the scenes depicted on the ceiling.

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On the way there, we passed by the tomb of the famous Italian poet, Dante Alighieri. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the middle, John the Baptist (usually depicted wearing a scruffy animal-fur cloth) is baptizing Jesus.

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Each tile is the size of a fingernail!
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An altar for conducting baptism services.

Throughout history, it was traditional for a newly baptized Christian to go directly from the baptistery to the church to celebrate their newly-acquired Christianity. We followed the trail of these ancient believers and headed to the Basilica of San Vitale.

While both Sant’Apollinare in Classe and San Vitale were built around the same time (and sponsored largely by the same donor) San Vitale is far more grand. The interior is more round than rectangular, and its supported by massive stone pillars. A red granite – found only in Egypt and impossible to cut without a diamond saw – decorates parts of the facade and interior. The central area is divided into levels, onced used to separate the genders during worship. A beautiful fresco (painted in the 1700s) adorns the ceiling in the nave. However, the real reason we came was waiting for us up at the front.

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Outdoor sarcophagi on the way into the church.
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In we go!
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This piece of mosaic was once part of the original floor.
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Ceiling fresco painted in the Baroque style by multiple artists in the 1700s.
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There it is!
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Mosaics in the apse of the Basilica of San Vitale.
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Portraits of saints lined one arch.
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All of this was made out of tiny pieces of tile.
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Jesus Christ is depicted sitting on a globe, watching over the church. We know it’s him because of the cross inside his halo.
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This world-famous panel shows Roman Emperor Justinian I, surrounded by 12 members of the Roman army and court.
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Directly across from Justinian is his wife Theodora, clad in royal jewels. These two panels are among the most famed in the art history world.

Next we made our way to the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. The mosaics inside have been so well-preserved that they’ve barely been retouched at all. While the body of Galla Placidia (the daughter of a Roman emperor) is no longer inside the mausoleum, it is widely believed that the bodies of her family members are.

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These mosaics were designed to resemble the heavens.
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A central cross surrounded by stars.

Last on our agenda was a stop at the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. It’s seen its fair share of renovations in its 1500 years of existence, but what remains is still stunning.

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The saints lining the sides are made of mosaic tile.
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A closer look at the mosaics of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.

We wrapped up the day with some delicious pasta and gelato and headed back to Florence. By the time we made it to the buses, we were happy to welcome the prospect of a two-hour nap time – it was such a full day! We learned so much, ate some great Italian food, and got to see some of the most beautiful art in the world. Ravenna is definitely one of Italy’s hidden gems.

 

Gelato Count: 20

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