Thursday, June 11, 2015


A vibrant historical mosaic in Italy

executive summary by darmansjah

At first glance, there hardly seems to be any comparison between Ravenna and Rome: Ravenna is smaller, sleepier, and without Rome’s domed skyline or ruins. But back in the fifth century, it was Ravenna that served as capital of the Western Roman Empire. In this burgeoning city, Roman rulers built monuments celebrating both Christianity and their own power—monuments famous, then and now, for their sweeping mosaics.

Seven of Ravenna’s eight buildings from the fifth and sixth centuries are spectacularly decorated with examples of this ancient art. “In the past, many people couldn’t read or write,” says tour guide and Ravenna native Silvia Giogoli. “Mosaics were a way to explain the religion, and the political situation, to the people.”

At the Basilica of San Vitale (above), a bejeweled Empress Theodora stares across the apse at her husband, Justinian. At Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, two rows of larger-than-life saints march toward the apse. But in Ravenna, mosaics aren’t just historical remnants. Visitors admire pieces by contemporary mosaicists including Chagall, Mathieu, and Vedova at the MAR (Museo d’Arte Ravenna) or poke into cluttered bottegas (workshops) where modern artists use the same methods as their Byzantine forebears. At the Parco della Pace, locals relax beside mosaic sculptures; even the city’s street signs glitter with glass fragments. At the 2013 RavennaMosaico, mosaic mania takes hold. Visitors can gawk at new pieces, listen to musicians, and learn to make their own masterpieces. —Amanda Ruggeri

Travel Tips

When to Go: June-October; weather is pleasant in April and May but historic sites can get crowded with school groups.

Relevant Dates: RavennaMosaico, a mosaic festival, next takes place in October-November 2015.

Where to Stay: Walk to historic district sites from Albergo Cappello, a restored, seven-room palazzo, or the more modern Hotel Centrale Byron.

How to Get Around: Take the train from Bologna, and then walk, bike, or use taxis within the city.

Where to Eat or Drink: Housed in a former movie theater, two-story Ristorante Cinema Alexander blends 1940s Hollywood décor with homemade Emilia Romagna pasta courses (tortellini, tagliatelle, passatelli) and attentive service (helpful in translating the menu). For fresh seafood, try Osteria L’Accigua and Da Buco.

What to Buy: Watch the next generation of Emilia Romagna mosaic artisans create contemporary and traditional pieces in local studios like Akomena, Twin Dolphins Mosaics, and Koko Mosaico.

What to Read Before You Go: Ravenna in Late Antiquity, by Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis (2010), provides a wide-ranging look at the city’s art, architecture, and history.

Fun Fact: Ravenna’s oldest monument is Battistero Neoniano. The surrounding street level has risen nearly ten feet since the octagonal baptistery was built in the fifth century, creating the illusion the building has sunk belowground.

No comments:

Post a Comment