San Vitale, Ravenna

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  • San Vitale
    San Vitale
    by magor65
  • Theodora offering a golden chalice
    Theodora offering a golden chalice
    by magor65
  • San Vitale
    San Vitale
    by magor65
  • leics's Profile Photo

    Basilica San Vitale: the highlight, surely?

    by leics Updated Dec 20, 2014

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    Of all Ravenna's wonderful ancient UNESCO sites the Basilica San Vitale must surely be the highlight for all visitors, not just me. It has an almost tangible atmosphere reflecting both its age and almost two millennia of worship.

    All ancient round churches hold that feeling for me and although S Vitale is octagonal from the outside its 'inner sanctum' is circular, with seats facing the great arched apses under which the altar stands.

    The building of the basilica started in 526 CE, under the Goths, but was completed under the Byzantines (and Emperor Justinian) in 548. Most of what you can see today dates from that time, with the walls of mosaics considered to be amongst the finest surviving from the time of the Byzantine Empire.

    The arched walls above the choir and apse are simply covered with mosaics depicting biblical figures and biblical scenes, saints, apostles and martyrs all set against detailed and intricate backgrounds showing creatures, plants and birds.

    On the left wall of the apse there are detailed portrait mosaics of the Emperor Justinian and his male court; on the right wall equally detailed portraits of the hard-faced Empress Theodora and her court of ladies. I may be seeing her as hard-faced simply because I know a bit about her: she was not a very pleasant woman and was very clever indeed at 'disappearing' those whom she considered her enemies.

    There are frescoes in other parts of the basilica but these date from the 1700s and thus were of little interest to me.

    It is also worth having a closer look at the floor. I can find no information about how old the mosaic marble flooring is but I'd guess it is not the original laid in the 500s. Even so, its patterns and depictions fascinated me. In front of the altar there is an easily-missed labyrinth in the floor which leads the the centre of the basilica. Labyrinths were commonplace in the Medieval church (the one in Chartes cathedral is perhaps the best-known, although they are found in Medieval places of worship across Europe). Following the labyrinth was considered a contemplative act which led one closer to God. so perhaps the mosaic floor dates from the early Medieval period?

    It would be very easy to spend an hour in this place simply looking at all the detail of all those magnificent mosaics. Again, my photos do not do it justice. Look at the video on the link below to get a much better idea of this wonderful display of art and craftsmanship.

    Entrance is included in the 5-site ticket (9.50 euro in October 2014) which also allows entrance to Basilica San Apollinare Nuovo, Museo Arcivescovile, the Neonian Baptistry and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. I can assure you that it will be the best 9.50 euro you have ever spent.

    More photos here

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  • Kuznetsov_Sergey's Profile Photo

    Basilica of San Vitale

    by Kuznetsov_Sergey Written Dec 30, 2012

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    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.

    Basilica of San Vitale
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  • magor65's Profile Photo

    San Vitale - mosaics

    by magor65 Written Aug 28, 2012

    The mosaics of San Vitale are not homogenous. Some were made by local artists and show the influence of ancient styles. The evidence might be using the perspective, fewer colours and the illusion of three dimensions. Others are typically byzantine - flat, motionless, bright with the predominance of gold.

    Two large 'imperial' mosaics on the both sides of the presbitery are the examples of the latter style. All figures are flat, their heads are on the same level (so called isocephaly). People are somehow deprived of flesh, it is their clothes that give shape to the body. The background is golden with no elements of landscape and the artist doesn't use the perspective.
    On the left side there's a scene of the emperor's gift. The two central figures are the emperor Justinian and Bishop Maximian. When you look at the bottom part of the mosaic you notice something amusing. The scene is so crowded that the feet of the men seem not to have enough room.
    On the other side we can see Theodora, Justinian's wife, portrayed at the moment of offering a golden chalice. She wears a crown and a a long string of pearls. Both Justinian and Teodora seem to look lovingly at each other, and let's hope they will do it for centuries to come.

    Justinian and his entourage Theodora offering a golden chalice
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    San Vitale - a bit of history

    by magor65 Written Aug 28, 2012

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    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.

    San Vitale San Vitale
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    San Vitale

    by viddra Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Beautiful mosaics inside show Justinian, who is believed to have financed the building, Empress Theodora and the rest of the Byzantine court.

    There are also scenes from the Old Testament, and you can see a pair of angels, holding a medallion with a cross, over each lunette.

    Christ appears to be seated on a blue globe, and Saint Vitale and Bishop Ecclesius, accompanied by angels, are at his side.

    The dome and the niches were frescoed in 1780 by Barozzi and Gandolfi of Bologna, and Guarana of Veneto.

    San Vitale angels
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part II

    by von.otter Updated Feb 9, 2011

    “The houses of Ravenna, whose appearance may be compared to that of Venice, were raised on the foundation of wooden piles.”
    — from ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ 1829 by Edward Gibbon

    The round AD 999 bell tower of the Basilica di San Vitale has a very Byzantine-inspired roof.

    Basilica di San Vitale, Bell Tower, Ravenna 6/2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Bell Tower, Ravenna 6/2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Bell Tower, Ravenna 6/2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Bell Tower, Ravenna 6/2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Bell Tower, Ravenna 6/2010
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part VII

    by von.otter Updated Feb 9, 2011

    “This naval establishment, which included the arsenals and magazines, the barracks of the troops, and the houses of the artificers, derived its origin and name from the permanent station of the Roman fleet; the intermediate space was soon filled with buildings and in habitants, and the three extensive and populous quarters of Ravenna gradually contributed to form one of the most important cities of Italy.”
    — from ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ 1829, by Edward Gibbon

    Not only are the walls and ceilings decorated with stunning mosaics, the floors too are beautifully worked with tiles and stone in various patterns throughout the Basilica di San Vitale.

    Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part VIII

    by von.otter Updated Dec 30, 2010

    “I accompanied him, quietly walking through the old rambling characteristic quarter of the city, in which stand the Basilica of San Vitale.”
    — from “Memoir of Conte Giuseppe Pasolini” 1885 compiled by his son Conte Pier Desiderio Pasolini dall’Onda

    Throughout the Basilica di San Vitale are some most unusual columns.

    Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, May 2010
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part III

    by von.otter Updated Dec 30, 2010

    “The noble basilica of San Vitale is of a somewhat later period, but still nearly as old as Santa Sophia, after which it was modeled. It contains gorgeous mosaics representing, besides divine subjects, the emperor' Justinian, with the empress Theodora and her court.”
    — from A. J. Johnson's (revised) Universal Cyclopaedia 1886

    This marble and brick gate is the entrance to the grounds of the Basilica di San Vitale.

    Basilica di San Vitale, Gate, Ravenna, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Gate, Ravenna, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Gate, Ravenna, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Gate, Ravenna, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Gate, Ravenna, June 2010
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part VI

    by von.otter Updated Dec 30, 2010

    “To visit the Ravenna churches is to follow a simple thread which imbeds jewels and pearls of great price: it is to contemplate gem by gem a perfect necklace, one portion of the clasp of which is the Basilica of San Vitale.”
    — from “Tchay and Chianti or Wanderings in Russia and Italy” 1887 by Welbore St. Clair Baddeley

    Not only are the walls and ceilings decorated with stunning mosaics, the floors too are beautifully worked with tiles and stone in various patterns throughout the Basilica di San Vitale.

    Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part V

    by von.otter Updated Dec 30, 2010

    “The magnificent Basilica of San Vitale (in a small square, near the Porta Adriana) exhibits the octagonal form with all the accessories of Eastern splendour.”
    — from “Handbook for Travelers in Northern Italy” 1866

    Unlike San Vitale’s apse mosaics, where Christ the Redeemer is shown as a clean-shaven youth, at the very top of the arch that leads to the apse, Christ is shown with a beard (see photo #1).

    Cascading down the arch, on either side of Jesus, are his twelve apostles; we even found Our Saints’ namesakes, Philip and Thomas (see photo #2).

    On the vaulted ceiling of the presbytery shows four angels standing, with arms raised in praise, amid intertwined vines and wild animals calling attention to the Lamb of God, circled in a medallion (see photo #4).

    St. Luke can be seen with his Gospel and his sacred cow (see photo #3).

    Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, Ravenna, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, Ravenna, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, Ravenna, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, Ravenna, May 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, Ravenna, May 2010
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part IV

    by von.otter Updated Dec 22, 2010

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    “The most notable subjects enjewelling the walls are: on the right, the purple-mantled Empress Theodora standing crowned among her maidens, resplendent in various costumes, and bearing a vase with offerings; on the left stands the Emperor Justinian, in purple and gold, with statesmen, soldiers, and priests, also holding a bowl.”
    — from “Tchay and Chianti or Wanderings in Russia and Italy” 1887 by Welbore St. Clair Baddeley

    The mosaics of San Vitale’s vault and apse are rendered in rich colors with great action. They date from between AD 526 and AD 547. A young, clean-shaven Christ the Redeemer (see photos #1 and #2), seated on the globe of the world, hands a martyr’s crown to San Vitale. Two angels and Bishop Ecclesius, who founded the church, complete the grouping.

    To the left of the apse is a mosaic of Emperor Justinian (see photos #4 and #5), who reigned from AD 527 to AD 565, and his entourage. Justinian stands in the center of the mosaic, wearing imperial purple and holding a large gold paten, the plate on which the bread is placed for Mass. Maximian, Archbishop of Ravenna, stands to his left, holding a jeweled cross.

    To the of the apse is a mosaic of Empress Theodora (see photos #3), wife of Justinian, with her court. Corresponding to Justinian’s paten, the empress holds the challis.

    Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, June 2010
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part I

    by von.otter Written Dec 22, 2010

    “I find that among the things ‘done’ in the aforementioned brief space of time were: the Basilica of San Vitale, that octagonal jewel box of architecture, glowing like the inside of a seashell with its wondrous marbles, and showing on its choir walls the sixth-century mosaic portraits of the Oriental Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora.”
    — from “An Ostrogothic Adventure” 1894 by Henry Tyrrell (1815-1859)

    The Basilica of San Vitale, built in the Byzantine architectural style, has an octagonal plan with a great cupola. Ecclesius, Bishop of Ravenna, initiated its construction the year after he made a trip to Byzantium with Pope John in AD 525. The site chosen for the church was the spot of the martyrdom of St. Vitalis. The Byzantines conquered Ravenna in AD 540 and what was begun under the Goths, the Byzantines finished in AD 548. Maximian, the first Archbishop of Ravenna, led the consecration of the basilica. Today, the splendid mosaics date from this Byzantine period.

    Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, June 2010 Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna, June 2010
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    While you're hanging around the San Vitale complex

    by Bunsch Written Nov 19, 2010

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    If you've already shelled out your 8 euros for the combination ticket that gets you into Sant'Apollinare in Classe and the Masoleum of Teodorico, you might as well use it to access the National Museum. But you can't get in on the combination ticket that admits you to San Vitale, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, and Galla Placidia's Mausoleum. So: what to do? If you'll visit those other places, pay your eight euros. Otherwise, admission to the gallery is 4 euros. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 8:30 AM to 7:30 PM.

    What I liked about the National Museum, which is located in the former Benedictine Monastery of San Vitale: i t has really nice bathrooms. If you happen to be traveling with a small boy, he'll love the collection of armor and weapons from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Finally, it is organized into cloisters. I'm a big fan of cloisters generally, but on a hot summer day, the shade and breeze are especially welcome. Moreover, what's collected there -- a melange of Roman, Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance and baroque building and funerary elements -- is interesting and you're really "up close and personal" with it. It's very touching to see the little sarcophagus of a child from roughly 300 AD, or the family burial markers like the one in the photograph.

    A family plaque
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    The Basilica of San Vitale

    by Bunsch Written Nov 15, 2010

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    The truth? It was so dark inside the Basilica (in contrast to S. Apollinare, for instance) that I either failed to notice or failed to pay adequate attention to the marvelous interplay of Byzantine architecture and brilliant mosaics. The book I brought home, which contains at least thirty pages of detailed photographs and descriptions (in somewhat mangled English, leading me to puzzle out what the author intended in the original Italian), has left me feeling like the most inept Philistine. Also, there were a lot of other people there, whereas the admission to Galla Placidia's Mausoleum -- accessed via San Vitale -- is controlled. I prefer to do my church-gawking without worrying about bumping into someone else who is trying to get a photograph. (I did notice that nobody was trying to pray, although at least here a few seats had been drawn up in front of the altar for presumptive worshippers.)

    But you must just ignore my boorishness and go and see the Basilica for yourself. There is no question that it deserves to be one of the pillars upon which Ravenna's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was based. This was the model for Hagia Sophia, constructed ten years later in Constantinople, as well as Charlemagne's great stone church at Aachen.

    Open 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM from April to September. Admission 7.50 euros in the combination ticket. There is apparently a decent audioguide available in the gift shop for 3.50, but I didn't get it -- I relied upon my lovely art book, which gave me a much better view of the mosaics than I was able to get with the naked eye.

    An aerial view of the basilica (not my pic) The apse, Redeemer on celestial globe (not my pic)
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