“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”
– Anne of Green Gables
I often feel like exactly like Anne. But then, I wonder if you blog readers will take me seriously when I declare that something is incredible, if you think I’m already in love with everything. Well then, you’re just going to have to take my word for it on this one. Ravenna, Italy, is one of the most beautiful and interesting little towns in the world!!
I have wanted to visit Ravenna ever since my first art history class at TCU. I took the class on a whim, as part of my shiny new liberal arts education. Throughout the course of that semester, I came to realize that I not only was learning things that I never knew before, but also that art history helped me interpret and explain concepts in most of my other classes – history, economics, science, literature. For example, I started to use art examples in difficult economics papers to help show and explain the way people were feeling about capitalism or government control. I became a sponge for art history knowledge. I had finally opened the door to a subject I actually found fascinating enough to study without being prodded by teachers or professors. Our classroom resembled a planetarium, and it might have well been, as we peered up wide-eyed at the projections of art, as our professors lectured about what, who, how, and why these things were created. I went on to get a minor in art history. Anyway, such was my frame of mind when I first heard about Ravenna.
Ravenna is easily overlooked on any Italian map. It’s a small, seemingly unimpressive little Italian town straight east of Bologna on the coast, and not on any direct train route. But don’t be fooled by the fact you’ve probably never heard of Ravenna. An important port city in ancient times, it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire for several hundred years in the 400’s, and later the capital of the Ostragoth Empire. Even later, it became the seat of Byzantine government in Italy – which was of course based in Constantinople, Turkey. In short, Ravenna’s got a pretty impressive resume.
If you take the time to get there (most likely involving train transfers in Bologna or somewhere else, and adept deciphering of local train timetables), you’re rewarded right away when you arrive at the station. Ravenna seems to see enough tourists to be tourist-friendly, and few enough tourists to keep it’s own identity in tact. The hotel we stayed at, the Albergho Cappello, was absolutely perfect, with chic décor and a fantastic cozy little wine bar and restaurant attached. Walking out the door of the hotel (located in the center of town), you can stumble across unique Italian food, like the Piadina. It tastes and looks like a cross between a pancake and a flour tortilla, cooked on the griddle, lined with cheese and meat or other delectable additions, and then folded in half and warmed like a Panini. Absolute heaven.
You might be saying to yourself, “Gee Amy that sounds a lot like any random Italian town. What’s so special about Ravenna?” Well, it has to do with what it hides on the inside of a handful of ancient buildings. Incredibly, this little town preserves the oldest, and most dazzlingly beautiful collection of mosaic art in the world, outside of Istanbul. You wouldn’t think so, looking at the outsides of some of these buildings. This one below, the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia was built in 426 BC:
But look inside! The almost floor-to-ceiling colorful mosaics glitter like millions of tiny jewels. Simply put, this art absolutely mind-blowing in modern day, not to mention the fact that it is also over 1500 years old.
Some of the designs look surprisingly modern:
Ravenna has quite a few such locations, filled with glittery goodness on the inside. There’s the Basilica di San Vitale, built around 540 BC, with soaring ceilings and sparkling golden rainbow colored mosaics.
The Battistero Neoniano is the most ancient structure in Ravenna, built in the late 300’s or early 400s. It’s amazing that they could capture faces so well within these portraits made out of colored rocks.
There’s also the Chapel of Sant’Andrea, a tiny little chapel filled with glittering representations of the apostles.
The last mosaics we saw in the city (although certainly the city has quite a few more than even those we saw) was the Basilica di Sant’Appolinare Nuovo.
That’s all. Peace out!