Ravenna is called “The City of Mosaics” for places such as the Basilica di San Vitale. I was dazzled by the Byzantine mosaics that played before my eyes and I couldn’t help but contemplate all its historical attributes of this place, not to mention its architectural magnificence.
The first stone foundation of the basilica was laid in 526 and after treacherous years of construction, it was finally completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna known as Maximian.
The basilica has all the elements of Roman Empire from its dome, towers, doorways, and that of the Byzantine elements of narrow bricks, perfectly illustrious mosaics and a polygonal apse. That is the structural brilliance that the place is built with.
However, more than this, what really captures the eyes and the heart of a visitor are the mosaics that are dotted around the building, lining its walls, and creating moving depictions of the old testament – all the way up to the dome.
As I moved across to see the apse, I could see theophoric mosaics at the bottom of it where clean-shaved Jesus is seen sitting on the globe flanked by angels Michael and Gabriel and San Vitale.
Alongside, Bishop Ecclesius is also shown presenting the church model to one of the angels. All of this depiction has a gold fascia in the background and the whole of the imagery that is created through the art of mosaics is just impeccable.
Looking to the left side, just below the apse, I saw the mosaic of Emperor Justinian whose head is shown gleaming because of the halo behind him.
I still cannot contemplate the kind of colors that have been used in its creation, and that too in the era where there weren’t any technological advancements to select materials that could last for centuries.
This imperial mosaic also shows the clergy of the emperor standing beside him along with his soldiers. He is seen standing in the center, thus, stressing on his importance as the lead figure. Apart from this, by observing the wardrobe of the emperor, I could easily spot his imperial purple dress. The emperor holds a golden plate, the plate which is used to place bread for Mass (Eucharistic bread). Archbishop of Ravenna, Maximian is shown to his left.
To the right side of the apse is the panel of Empress Theodora. Here too, the exalted presence of the center of figures, the Empress, is shown in utmost ostentation of the court with the use of polychrome mosaics.
A similar halo is seen behind the figure and in her hand, she holds the wine chalice. Her robe has the embroidery of Three Magi, which I think, are there to symbolize the couple with the kings that adorned Christ with their gifts.
The above-mentioned panels are the major mosaic arts that put me in a trance. The two lunettes, however, on the left and right has a certain depiction of the Trinity. The right one shows the Old Testament of Eucharist showing Melchizedek and Abele’s sacrifices, while the left one shows the sacrifice of Abram. It is in the left one that certain church fathers claim that the Holy Trinity has been revealed in the form of the three angels.
Apart from these, the arch of the apse is also embellished by the mosaics of the 12 apostles with Christ in the center. Also, here the angels Gabriel and Michael could be seen holding concentric circles from which rays are seen emitting and have the alpha symbol in the center.
Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mosaics inside are, I think, one of the best ones I’ve seen in Italy. And they, also, are ones of the most impressive.
I went to Ravenna for a day trip from Bologna. It’s just less than two hours by train.
Just in case you decide to stay in Bologna for a night and leave very early the next day, stay at Stazione Centrale. When you arrive, do not exit at the front / main gate. Go to the back exit / entrance and from there, it’s just 20 meters away.
Well, you know, solo travel is not for everyone. Should you decide to go on with a tour group, go with – Intrepid Travel. They have a wide variety of tours for all ages and different kinds of travelers, including solo, seniors, teenagers and family.