Ravenna

Ravenna, about 82 km east of Bologna, was most important as the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402-476, the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths (a christian civilisation that defeated the Western Romans) from 476-540, and the Italian flagship city for the Byzantine Empire after its reconquest of the area from 540-751. These periods produced some of the greatest religious and secular mosaics in the world, but after that, the city fell into obscurity, mostly overshadowed by the greater city-states of Italy, like Venice, Florence and Genoa (it was enough of a cultural wasteland that Dante Aligheri was exiled there from Florence as a punishment for supporting a failed rebellion), changing hands and being sacked and looted multiple times (most notably by Charlemagne on the personal authority of the Pope). While this was’t great for the city, it did mean that its greatest treasures, the mosaics, have been kept from harm, rather than being taken down or demolished in favour of reuse of land or buildings, like happens in cities with greater importance across Europe, and that its mosaics can be the main focus of a visit here rather than having to bounce around through different periods (you can see a similar phenomenon by comparing Edinburgh Castle, which was used continuously for a very long time with many different purposes and thus has something of a confused feel; and Stirling Castle, which was the Royal Palace for less than a century and then sunk into comparative obscurity, and thus has a unified and well-preserved overall feel). This may not be much good for the people living there, but it makes visiting the place a pleasurable breeze. This is not to say that there isn’t a good quantity of modernity: in recent years tourism has taken off and brought a wide variety of cultural events and technological conveniences to Ravenna. So, walking through the city, I saw a great quantity of Byzantine mosaics, the tomb and alleged (but not actual) palace of the Gothic king Theodoric, the tomb of Dante Aligheri and a Renaissance fortress; ate a kebab, used the free wifi in the city centre where a public movie showing was set up, and walked past a shop dedicated to lego. Ravenna is marvellous; you should definitely get down there.

Theodoric’s mausoleum (King of the Ostrogoths)
Theodoric’s mausoleum (King of the Ostrogoths)
Ravenna’s greatest mosaic church, the Basilica di San Vitale
Ravenna’s greatest mosaic church, the Basilica di San Vitale
We here see depictions of a whole lot of biblical things: in the lower semicircle, the hospitality of Abraham towards the angels, and attempting to sacrifice his son; above that on each side the prophets Jeremiah and Moses; above each of those, the writers of the gospels Luke and Matthew; and to the far left, the beginning of an archway that includes all twelve apostles, plus two Byzantine saints, with Jesus right at the peak.
We here see depictions of a whole lot of biblical things: in the lower semicircle, the hospitality of Abraham towards the angels, and attempting to sacrifice his son; above that on each side the prophets Jeremiah and Moses; above each of those, the writers of the gospels Luke and Matthew; and to the far left, the beginning of an archway that includes all twelve apostles, plus two Byzantine saints, with Jesus right at the peak.
And on the other side: the continuation of the great arch; to the upper left of it John and the lower left Isaiah; and in the semicircle two great sacrifices to God from Abel and Melchizedek.
And on the other side: the continuation of the great arch; to the upper left of it John and the lower left Isaiah; and in the semicircle two great sacrifices to God from Abel and Melchizedek.

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The exterior of this tiny tomb, which houses the mother and brothers of Theodoric, belie the magnificent blues inside
The exterior of this tiny tomb, which houses the mother and brothers of Theodoric, belie the magnificent blues inside
Dante lies here, because he was exiled after his side lost a civil war and he refused to pay the reparations
Dante lies here, because he was exiled after his side lost a civil war and he refused to pay the reparations

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Alterpieces and baptistries in the Arian Baptistry (not Nazi! That’s Aryan! Arius was a spiritual leader from the Byzantine era who decided that the Trinity was bollocks and that the Son was subordinate to the Father, and his followers built this church while fighting with the Catholics)
Alterpieces and baptistries in the Arian Baptistry (not Nazi! That’s Aryan! Arius was a spiritual leader from the Byzantine era who decided that the Trinity was bollocks and that the Son was subordinate to the Father, and his followers built this church while fighting with the Catholics)
Every child’s wildest dream
Every child’s wildest dream
A magnificent ceiling with a remarkably effeminate Jesus being baptised, surrounded by the Twelve
A magnificent ceiling with a remarkably effeminate Jesus being baptised, surrounded by the Twelve
Saints marching from the city of Classe (now Ravenna), in the Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo
Saints marching from the city of Classe (now Ravenna), in the Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo
(Not actually) Theodoric’s Palace
(Not actually) Theodoric’s Palace

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