“Ave, vestal-eyed Ravenna!
Grant at last the boon I crave
Far from rush and crush of highways,
In the hush of hidden byways
Let me stand by Dante’s grave.”
— from “Dante’s Grave” by Carl B. H. Wolff
Founded in the fifth century, the Basilica St. Francis was rebuilt in the 10th-11th centuries over a previous church that was dedicated to the Apostles and later to St. Peter. Behind the humble brick façade its interior space is divided into a center nave and two side aisles. Fragments of mosaics from the earlier churches are inlaid into the floor.
This church’s claim to fame: the funeral ceremony of Dante Alighieri was held here in 1321. The poet rests in a tomb next to the church. For centuries, Ravenna’s authorities refused all demands made by Florence to have the remains of its famous son returned to the city that punished him with exhile.
“Happier Ravenna! on thy hoary shore,
Fortress of falling empire, honored sleeps
The immortal exile.”
— from “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” 1818 by Lord Byron (1788-1824)
The “immortal exile” that Byron writes about is Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).
Amongst Ravenna’s austere, reddish-brown, Medieval brick churches is the 1780 white marble tomb of Dante. Designed by Camillo Morigia in the Neoclassical style, each year a ceremony is held here on the anniversary of Dante’s death.
“On nearing Ravenna we had a complete and beautiful view of the great pine forest (la pineta) of Ravenna, which is as beautiful, unique, and majestic as Dante would have us believe, and situated as it is, far from the city, on the edge of the misty marshes, one can easily imagine that the murmur of the great spreading branches might seem to tell the story of Ravenna’s mad love, as well as of the tragedies and triumphs of which this famous city has been the scene.”
— from ‘Italian Castles and Country Seats’ by Tryphosa Bates Batcheller (1876-1952)
Sant’Apollinare is the patron saint of Ravenna; he brought Christianity to this area.
The green and peaceful cloisters of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo are well worth your time. Sit; relax here. What a joy it is.
UNESCO placed Sant’Apollinare Nuovo on the World Heritage List. At that time art historians noted “both the exterior and interior of the basilica graphically illustrate the fusion between the western and eastern styles characteristic of the late fifth to early sixth centuries.”
Opening hours are 10:00 to 17:00 daily, ticket office closes at 16.45. the church is closed on the 1st of January and on the 25th of December.
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a Roman building that was listed with seven other structures in Ravenna in the World Heritage List in 1996.
The UNESCO experts describe it as "the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments, and at the same time one of the most artistically perfect".
You will see the beautiful interior view, showing the southern lunette.
The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in western Europe. The building is styled an "ecclesiastical basilica" in the Roman Catholic Church, though it is not of architectural basilica form. It is one of eight Ravenna structures inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
You can watch my 2 min 51 sec Video Ravenna part 1 out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe is a famous monument of Byzantine art near Ravenna.
When the UNESCO inscribed eight Ravenna sites on the World Heritage List, it cited this basilica as "an outstanding example of the early Christian basilica in its purity and simplicity of its design and use of space and in the sumptuous nature of its decoration".
You can watch my 2 min 35 sec Video Ravenna part 2 out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
One of the most interesting places to visit in Ravenna is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. But who was she?
Born at the end of the 4th century, she was the daughter of a Roman emperor, half-sister of two emperors and the mother of another emperor. Quite a lot for one person, isn't it? She was taken a hostage by Visigoths, married their king and fell deeply in love with him. After the death of her barbarian husband, she then married a Roman general, who later became emperor Constantine III. From this marriage she had two children. She outlived her husband and her brother Honorius - a Roman emperor. After his death she was made Augusta. She was to rule in name of her six-year-old son. She ran the Roman government in the West for 12 years. The last years of her life she devoted to church building and restoration works in Ravenna.
According to some scholars, the mausoleum that bears her name, was actually an oratory commissioned by her. The truth is, that we can't find her tomb here and most probably it was never here. She is said to have been buried in Rome in the Rotunda of St. Petronila near St. Peter's.
Neonian Baptistery is the oldest of Ravenna's ancient monuments. Its construction was started in the early 5th century and finished by bishop Neon (451-75) who had the mosaics added to the dome.
The baptistery is an octagonal brick construction with four niches spreading out from the centre. The entrances are below the ground as the street level has risen about three metres since it was built.
The octagonal form of the construction is meaningful. It is said to represent the seven days of Creation and the eighth day of rest.
What immediately attracts the visitors' attention inside the building is the magnificent mosaic in the centre of its cupola. It shows the baptism of Christ. The redeemer is portrayed nude, waist-deep in the river Jordan. We can also see a personification of the river Jordan as an old man emerging from the water.
Talking about the baptistery, it's interesting to mention that the ceremony of baptism in those early times differed much from what we know today. First of all, the baptismal liturgy took place only once a year - on Easter Sunday. Baptism on other occasions was to be avoided except under the threat of death. It was common to put off the ceremony until maturity. As a result, the number of neophytes to be baptised on one day was close to a crowd. Those who were to be baptised, had to register at the beginning of Lent. The baptistery was only open for great baptismal liturgy. On Holy Saturday the Bishop accompanied by a priest entered the baptistery where he prayed and then the neophytes were admitted for the ritual. It is arguable whether they took off their clothes or not before stepping into water where they immersed three times. After putting on white garments, they proceeded to the basilica to take part in the first communion.
The mausoleum located centrally in the Old Town is a part of a complex made by San Vitale, the National Museum and the mausoleum itself.
At the main entrance to San Vitale there's a ticket office where you can buy a combined ticket for S. Apollinaire Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery, San Vitale, mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel. The price in July, 2012 was 9.50 EURO.
The small humble structure made of brick dates back to 430 A.D., which means that it is one of the oldest monuments of Ravenna. The exterior is hardly decorated as the only ornamentations are blind arcades, a cornice on the east, west and south arms and a carved frieze over the doorway in the north arm. Nothing in this simple exterior prepares you for a lavish feast you'll have once you step inside.
Stepping inside appears to be a hard experience for us. We have to wait in a long queue in a scorching temperature of 38 degrees C. Organised groups are allowed to enter without waiting so the discontent of individual tourists is growing. After about forty minutes of waiting, the lady checking tickets gives a signal to get in. A lot of people seem to forget about good manners and elbow their way towards a narrow entrance pushing aside those standing on their way. The lady can't manage the crowd and calls for help. A bulky man appears and starts shouting to restore order. What a shame! The whole incident spoils for a moment the pleasure of coming face to face with the mosaic of Good Shepherd whose pictures I saw so many times in different sources prior to our trip.
The design of San Vitale was inspired by Hagia Sophia and other great Byzantine churches. Bishop Ecclesio returned to Ravenna in 520 after his long journey to the East. He was greatly impressed by the splendour of Constantinople and decided to erect San Vitale. The construction of the church was financed by Giuliano Argentario, a rich banker who lived in Ravenna. It took about 20 years to complete the church and finally it was consecrated on April 19th 546 by Bishop Maximian.
The patron of the church is St. Vitale - a Roman soldier who was buried alive for his faith. The place of his martyrdom was chosen as the site for the church.
The construction is really impressive. It consists of an octagonal domed core supported by eight piers. The interior is spacious and bright owing to large windows. The central domed space is encircled by vaulted ambulatory and matroneo where women used to worship.
“He thatrelgncthun high, to whom is given all power in heaven and in earth, hath committed the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, out of which there is no salvation, to one only on earth, namely, to Peter, prince of the apostles, and to the Roman pontiff, successor of Peter, to be governed with a plenitude of power. This one he hath constituted prince over all nations and all kingdoms, that he might pluck up, destroy, dissipate, ruinate, plant, and build.”
— from the 1570 Bull by Pope Pius V against Queen Elizabeth I
Throughout Ravenna signs of the city’s connection with the church’s hierarchy and with the papacy can be seen in a random collection of coats-of-arms.
Photo #1 Pope Pius V (reigned 1566-1572)
Photo #2 Paul V (reigned 1605-1621)
Photo #4 Pope Gregory XIII (reigned 1572-1585)
This church was originally the cathedral of the Arian bishops in Ravenna. The church was renamed for Saint Apollinaris when the saint's relics were moved there in the Middle Ages.
The church holds beautiful mosaics of saints, angels, doctors of the Church, and so on. A few mosaics had to be "edited" when the Roman Catholic Church displaced the Arians...
“Ravenna sta come stata e molt’ anni.” (‘Ravenna stands as many years she stood.’)
— from ‘The Divine Comedy, Inferno,’ by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Scattered throughout the grounds of the Basilica of San Vitale are a number of marble sarcophagi (see photos #1, #2 and #3). From the carvings — lambs, crosses — they date from the Christian era; although exact dates are not known.
There are also sarcophagi displayed at the Archiepiscopal Museum (see photos #4 and #5). The carving on the sarcophagus in photo #5 shows the Three Magi presenting their gifts to the Christ Child, held by an enthroned Mary. The body positioning of the three kings resembles the Magi in the mosaic on the nave’s left-hand wall at the Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (see my Ravenna Things-To-Do Tip for Sant'Apollinare Nuovo). I suspect that the carving on the sarcophagus was inspired by the mosaic, and not the other way around.
“I halted at Ravenna, too.
The dismal little town is dead.
Old ruined churches meet your view
Wherever you may chance to tread.
You walk as in a land of dreams
The streets are all so silent there
For ages they have slept, it seems,
And grass and moss grow everywhere.
But like a half-forgotten strain
It haunts you, when away you turn,
You think of it; and yet again
You think of it and yearn.”
— “Ravenna” 1902 by Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
Exiled from Florence, his hometown, in 1301, Dante, the author of The Divine Comedy, wandered through Italy until he was invited to Ravenna by Prince Guido Novello da Polenta in 1318. Dante finished Paradiso here, and died, in Ravenna, on 14.September.1321.
To the right of the tomb is a mound of earth. The urn which Dante’s ashes (see photos #4 and #5) are kept was buried here from March 1944 to December 1945 because of the possibility that the little building might be hit during the bombings.
The tomb is open daily, 9am to Noon and 2pm to 5pm. Admission is free.
In June 2008 Florence’s city council rescinded Dante’s sentence. Florence donates the oil for the eternal flame that burns in the lamp (see photo #3) hanging from the tomb’s dome.
My Dearest Friend, Since I last wrote to you, I have been on a visit to Lord Byron at Ravenna.”
— from a letter written by Percy Bysshe Shelley to Leigh Hunt, Esq., 26.August.182
Sant’Apollinare’s interior measures 138 by 69 feet. The 24 marble columns, and their capital (see photos #1 and #2), that divide the nave from the side aisles were brought from Constantinople. These Byzantine features are marked with a Greek cross.
Directly above the columns are fresco portrait medallions of a series of saints (see photos #1 and #2).