Existing Member?


Revisiting Ravenna

ITALY | Wednesday, 20 October 2021 | Views [115]

Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna

Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY to Ravenna—Autumn arrived. With the all the road construction, impromptu stops to photograph the fall colors and time for a picnic lunch, the 90-minute drive from Arezzo took nearly twice as long. Back in 2012 parking in Ravenna was so bad we spent the night in San Marino. This time we found a B&B with free-parking right outside the city gate. It isn’t the best place we have stayed but it gives us time to see if Ravenna was as good as we remembered.


           Fall Colors of Italy

If you aren’t familiar with Ravenna and its eight World Heritage sites, here’s a little history. In 285 with the barbarians at the gates of Rome, Diocletian divided the Empire into the Eastern and Western Roman Empires with Constantinople the capital of the East and Milan in the West. Honorius moved the capital again from Milan to Ravenna in the early 5th Century. The Goths finally captured the city in 476, ending the glory that was Rome and the Golden Age of Ravenna.  


           San Vitale and Bapistry

Ravenna has the best mosaics this side of Istanbul, which is where we first became interested in them.  In fact, the famous Hagia Sofia in Istanbul was copied from the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. In the mosaics it is easy to see the influence of the Romans, the Goths, and the Byzantines from the way the biblical stories are treated. Mosaics are so popular they are even used as street signs.    

n     bb

     Only in Ravenna—Mosaic Street Signs

Connie’s frustrations with website information and actual opening hours is only getting worse—the two never seem to agree. Nevertheless, we bought the comprehensive Ravenna ticket. It covered almost everything we wanted to see but several were time-sensitive due to Covid restrictions and so we had to work around the schedule.


                Mausoleum of Galla Placida

First stop, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, sister of Roman Emperor Honorius, where we had a timed entrance. Although she is probably buried near her brother in Rome and not a hank of hair or a piece of bone rests inside, it doesn’t detract from the magnificence of mosaics in the small mausoleum. 


                           Mosaics of Galla Placida

b      b

                   Shining through Alabaster Windows

Songwriter Cole Porter is said to have been so impressed with the night sky mosaics in Galla Placida that he based “Night and Day” on them. No songwriter me, I was as much taken by the alabaster “windows” and the soft morning light filtering through.


              Special Ticket for Connie

When you have finished with the mausoleum you are “supposed” to go directly to the Basilica of San Vitale but Connie likes to save the best for last. An obliging attendant initialed our ticket giving us dispensation to return after lunch when we could spend more time with the mosaics of San Vitale.


                            Baptism of Jesus

We rushed to make our timed entrance at Battistero Neoniano, the most ancient monument in Ravenna. On the domed ceiling Jesus is completely naked in a scene of his baptism, and a pagan river god represents the Jordan River. We weren’t planning on going to the Museum but since it was right next door and on our ticket . . . . Mostly Connie wanted to see the Archbishop’s private chapel, around which the museum was built. Again, the mosaics are spectacular. The third part of the complex is the Duomo, nothing special, but I loved the pews, worn by centuries of prayerful hands.


   Duomo and Baptistry


               Archbishop's Chapel


                                          Prayer Tested Pews


                                                            B&B Ai Giardini San Vital

I was running out of steam and it was getting on towards lunchtime. We got take-away from the “Cinese” restaurant, not exactly sure what we were ordering—the menu was in Italian. We ate on the quiet garden patio of our B&B. 


     Original Columns of Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo

I was getting mosaic’d -out but we still had the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo to visit. Originally an Arian church (as opposed to Orthodox) it was reconsecrated by Justinian and was renamed in 856 when the relics of Saint Apoliinaris were brought in. While I wasn’t impressed by the johnny-come-lately mosaics I like the way the light played on the corinthian columns—originals!


              Basilica San Vitale—not much kerb appeal

And the best was still to come! 


                          Mosaic Panel of Justinian


                                     Mosaic Panel of Theodora

Although the outside isn’t very impressive, from floor to domed ceiling and everything in between, the Basilica di San Vitale is a gem. The two most famous mosaic panels are of  Emperor Justinian and his wife, Empress Theodora and as great at they are I could not help but look up, past the pillars to the domes and the light filtering through the alabaster. 


                    Basilica San Vitale


                     Looking Up—Basilica San Vitale 


                             Reflections of Basilica San Vitale

The architecture, as much as the art, is what makes San Vitale so special. Even the reflection from the baptismal pool was interesting.


About graynomadsusa

The Vagabonds at Cobh, Ireland

Follow Me

Where I've been


Photo Galleries

My trip journals

See all my tags 



Travel Answers about Italy

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.