Unlocking the mosaics of Ravenna

All memories of yesterday’s storm are forgotten when drawn curtains reveal solid blue sky. Today Ravenna’s secrets are to be unlocked. This is why I love Italy. To walk around narrow streets and piazzas, shaded by ancient buildings and chapels and churches and statues on pillars and surrounded by history and culture and food and coffee. Cafes with tables line the cobbled streets with men drinking their espresso behind their spread newspapers as I seek that restaurant for dinner where the locals will be eating. A gentle trickle of folk pass – mamas with shopping bags half full, classy ladies struggling to keep up with their scuttling dachshunds, tattooed youth on their way somewhere or other. In these car-free streets a constant stream of cyclists gently avoid the pedestrians with a tinkle of a bell – sexy girls with long tanned legs in short shorts, elegant moustached gentlemen and the whole gambit of Italian society on their way to work, to shop, to play.


Nothing out of the ordinary you might think. It sounds like a typical Italian town. But Ravenna is like a geologist’s display cabinet. It has been the capital city of three different civilisations in its time and so is quite an important place. From 400 AD the early Christians have impacted on its society and its buildings. Religious buildings cover the old centre, mostly red-bricked. Crack their dull, dusty shell open and be aghast. As each reveals their glistening, sparkling, crystalled inside,yourr breath will be dragged from your body in awe. Mosaics have used as an art form for centuries to decorate and commemorate the inside of churches and mausoleums. Here are a few.

I am going to start with the old library which is upstairs in the new library. Whilst not a mosaic in sight it feels to me like the Bodleian in Oxford and I wanted to share.


The crypt of the church of San Francesco its mosaics underwater. You may be able to spot the carp.


The Mausoleum di Galla Placidia, an important lady of the 13th century, is small and intimate and glorious. Mosaics, remember. Little bits of tile.

Basilico di San Vitale has these positioning around its dome but the whole alter is surrounded by a gargantuan spread of mosaic saints.


Battistero degli Ariani, Basilica di Apollinare Nuono and the Neonian Baptistry are three more temples to the mosaic.

 

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