Day 36: Ravenna—sort of

Flooding in the area caused the closure of all of Ravenna’s monuments. The ones we were to visit are noted for their mosaics inside but I thought I could still visit the exteriors.

The focus in Ravenna is the era after the sack of Rome in 410, when non-Romans became emperors or rulers of the Roman Empire. Ravenna became the capital of the western Roman Empire and Constantinople, the eastern. Ravenna was chosen because, like Venice, it is in a swampy area on the eastern coast, close to the Adriatic Sea, thus easier to defend and to run away to safety in Constantinople.

The barbarians, who called themselves kings, not emperors, came to rule Italy. Theodoric was educated in Constantinople, in other words, barbarian meant not Roman, not uneducated and these rulers were Christian.

Arian Baptistery was presumably built by king Theodoric at the end of the 5th century AD, when Arianism was the court’s official religion. Halfway through the 6th century AD, the baptistery was consecrated to the Orthodox worship at the behest of Justinian and became an oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The doctrine of Arianism held that Jesus, because he was God’s son, was not co-eternal and not the equal of God. It emphasized Jesus’ humanity and was at odds with orthodox doctrine on the nature of the Trinity and of Jesus.

Two Holy Roman Emperors in the 4th century as well as Gothic, Vandal and Lombard war lords were Arians. Even before Theodoric, Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, condemned Arianism.

Basilica of Sant Apollinare Nuovo with its mosaic Procession of Martyrs, was erected by Theodoric as his palace chapel during the first quarter of the 6th century. This was an Arian church originally dedicated to “Christ the Redeemer”. When the Byzantine Emperor Justinian conquered the area, he suppressed Arianism and the church was re-dedicated St. Martin of Tours, a foe of Arianism.

San Salvatore ad Calchi are the remnants of a wall of Theodoric’s palace and likely was connected to Apollinare Nuovo.

As an aside, Dante’s funeral was in San Francesco in Ravenna.

Dante’s tomb

Inside San Francesco, the crypt is filled with water (even when it isn’t flooding) and there are fish swimming in the water. Note the 10th century mosaic flooring.

Back to the early Medieval period: the Mausoleo di Teodrico is made of Istrian stone, sourced from a quarry approximately 400 kilometres (249 mi) away. Its roof consists of a single carved stone 10 metres (33 ft) in diameter weighing 230 tonnes.

Theodoric’s remains were removed during Byzantine rule, when the mausoleum was turned into a Christian oratory. In the late 19th century, silt which partly submerged the mausoleum was drained and excavated.

Justinian, the Eastern Roman Emperor, sought to restore the Roman Empire and sent his generals to conquer the territories held by the Ostrogoths, including Italy. In 540, the general Belisaurus took Ravenna.

The Battistero Neoniano or Orthodox Baptistery probably dates back to the beginning of the 5th century and built at the behest of Bishop Ursus, when Ravenna became capital of the Western Roman Empire.

Duomo on the left and Neonian Baptistery on the right

Just a few decades after its construction, bishop Neon (450 – 475 AD) ordered a series of restoration works, including the cupola and the inner decorations. Unlike other baptisteries of the 4th and 5th century, both in the Western and in the Eastern ancient world (Antioch, Constantinople, Ephesus, Trier, Milan, Aquileia and Rome), this building is the best preserved one, both from the architectural and the ornamental point of view.

The Duomo is an 18th century reconstruction after an earthquake destroyed the Medieval building.

San Vitale was the major church in Ravenna under Justinian’s rule which became increasingly tyrannical regulating everything including religion. He dictated by law the Church’s belief in the Trinity and Incarnation as he thought a unified Empire required the same belief, which for him was the orthodox or doctrines accepted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. San Vitale was being built as the same time as Hagia Sophia.

The 6th century church is an important surviving example of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture. It has the largest and best preserved mosaics outside of Istanbul. It is believed to reflect the design of the Byzantine Imperial Palace Audience Chamber, the main hall of the palace in Constantinople, of which nothing survives. Hope I get to see inside before we leave.

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, built between 425 and 450, despite its common name, the empress Galla Placidia (d. 450) was not buried in the building. Aelia Galla Placidia, the likely patron of the building’s construction, was the daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius I and Galla, the daughter of Emperor Valentinian I. She was married first to the King of the Visigoths Athulf and then to the western Roman Emperor Constantanius III. When her 6 year old son became the western Emperor, she ruled as regent.

Other sights in Ravenna include Rocca Brancaleone or Rocca di Ravenna built in 1457 by Venetians. Some scholars suggest the name means “branca” (to catch) and “leone” (lion), the symbol of the Serenissima.

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