The secrets of Ravenna

Piazza del Popolo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Giovani Racca

Ravenna one of the candidate cities for the title of European Capital of Culture for the year 2019, is a town that has so much history and so much art to be discovered, as it is a city that reveals its secrets gradually. Only a careful examination may lead to the discovery of treasures that are truly unique, and not just in Europe.

Historical background
Ravenna, probably inhabited by the Umbrians and Etruscans later, starts its records from the second century BC, when much of the Po Valley was colonized by Rome and, consequently, Ravenna became a Roman city.
In the first century Caesar Augustus chose Ravenna as the headquarters of the fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. He built the great Port of Classe.
The most important period of the history of Ravenna began in 402, when it became the capital of the west. Honorius moved his court to Ravenna and in 476 the Roman Empire in the west end and the barbarian king Odoacer assumed the title of King of Italy and Ravenna again were chosen as the venue.
Ravenna in 493 was occupied by Theodoric, who, for more than 30 years, ruled the city with wisdom; he restored the aqueduct of Trajan and undertook great works of reclamation.
Because of the Arian cult, he built churches for its population (the present Church of the Holy Spirit, near the Baptistery of the Arians and the Church of S. Apollinare Nuovo). In 540 Ravenna became Byzantine when the army commanded by Belisarius entered the city, which,  under the influence of Justinian experienced a new period of great splendour.
Followed centuries of ups and downs, the struggles between the feudal period, the domain of the archbishops, the erection of a free commune, the power of the various Lordships. In 1431 the city was under the rule of the Republic of Venice until the beginning of 1500, when the whole Romagna became part of the Papal Government and Ravenna was reduced to the status of an outlying village, devoid of their own culture.

Only in recent years there has been a turnaround: the factories have been developed, the art has regained force and especially the mosaics are back to being the pride of the city, known throughout the world thanks to them.

Piazza del Popolo 0 is the heart of the city and it was built by the Venetians about 150. From the small station, walking  straight down Viale Farini to Piazza del Popolo. Most sights are within a few minutes’ walk of Piazza del Popolo.
The Mausoleum, definitely wanted by the same Theodoric in 520, was built in the place formerly used at the cemetery of the Goths. It is built with large blocks of Istrian stone, squared and well-connected securely to dry, but bound inside by iron clamps. The side is marked by impressive round-arched niches and proportions and shape. Through a niche you go that leads inside a room in the shape of a cross, illuminated slightly by 6 windows, perhaps a chapel to conduct the funeral service or a burial chamber where the sarcophagus would have to take place for the family.
The upper floor is always smaller decagonal niches repeated emphasis on the reason of the porch; above the door is a circular shape, starting with a marble frame ends with an ornamental leaves whose remarkable frieze is called the “pincer”. The Battistero degli Ortodossi was built in the late fourth to early fifth centuries and is the oldest of Ravenna’s monument with many incredible mosaics which decorate the dome.

Ravenna is also the city where the remains of the Italian poet Dante. He is a dedicated area of ​​the city, just call Dante area, rearranged in the years 1933 – 1936. It includes a complex of interesting monuments, made even more famous by the presence of the remains of Dante, who was buried under a porch outside of the nearby church of St. Francis. Only in 1483, Bernardo Bembo, captain and mayor of Ravenna  commissioned Pietro Lombardo to beautify the tomb. The current temple in sober neoclassical style is the Cardinal Legate Luigi Valenti Gonzaga’s desire, who entrusted the work to the architect Camillo Morigia in 1780. The interior is well covered in marble and keeps the urn with the bones of Dante, had it made in 1483 by Bernardo Bembo.
Not far from the tomb, stands the Museum of Dante. It is accessed by an external staircase in the back of the tomb. It was settled in 1921, when it was donated by the municipalities of Italy also the bell placed over the outside staircase.

Ravenna’s two most important sights, Basilica di San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, are two blocks away down Via San Vitale. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, is just across the courtyard from the basilica. A  little mausoleum but with the oldest  mosaics in Ravenna: Jesus the Good Shepherd, Mark’s lion, Luke’s ox, John’s eagle, the golden cross are tresures from a early Christian era. The Basilica di San Vitale is one of Italy’s most important monuments of early Christian art with an elegant cupola and stunning 6th century mosaics in its apse:  the scenes of apostles, the lamb on the twinkly ceiling, the beardless Christ, and Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora. The Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo was originally a Palatine church. Byzantine style mosaics cover two walls reflecting both early-Catholic and Arian cult beliefs.

Interesting and suggestive is the church of San Francesco, whose crypt is often filled with sea water, being below sea level, it is not difficult to find even small fish that live permanently or4mai here, between the columns and the floor.Absolutely unmissable is the M.A.R., the Municipal Art Museum of Ravenna, which  includes a collection of contemporary mosaics, medieval and modern art, and temporary art exhibits.

The Basilica of Sant’Appolinare in Classe,  outside Ravenna and located  in the ancient Roman port of Classe is nearby the archaeological park. Its apse is decorated with mosaics and it holds the sarcophagi of former archbishops.

Ravenna is only  90 minute  from the main Venice–Florence train trail and  close to Bologna. So it is worthy a visit, also to taste its unforgettable piadina!

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