Friday (June 17), I made my way from Padua to Ravenna. I took the bullet train from Padua to Bologna and a local train from Bologna to Ravenna.
I arrived in Ravenna around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I got checked into my hotel and talked with the owner for about an hour about all the things to do in and around town. I got settled and unpacked, did some planning and took a quick nap. Later, I got dinner at a pub called “Fargo” that was right across the street from my hotel.
Most people say that Ravenna is only on the (tourist) map for one reason- its 1,500 year old mosaic covered churches. While that is the main reason I insisted on going to Ravenna, upon being there for a few days, I would argue that it should be on the map for so much more. It is the perfect, quaint medium/small city, with not a ton of tourists (other than at the big main mosaic churches). The city center is mostly pedestrian streets, so it’s very easy to get your bearings and navigate the city. It’s a good city to just wander and get lost in.
Since the 400s, Ravenna has been an ever-changing cultural and political center of Western civilization. It has been conquered and controlled by the barbarians, the Goths, the Byzantines and by the Holy Roman Empire. It was the last capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Between the years 400-600, the famous mosaic churches were constructed.
Day 1: June 18 (first full day)
My first stop of the day was Museo D’Arte della Città di Ravenna, also known as MAR. The MAR features art from the 14th century to the present. For some reason, my trusty Rick Steves didn’t even mention this museum in his guidebook. The visiting “The Seduction of the Ancient” exhibition was getting a lot of press and being very well advertised throughout the city. I started seeing posters for the exhibition the moment I got off the train at the train station. The concept behind this exhibition was a selection of pieces created by modern artists that were based on or inspired by ancient works of art. It featured the work of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamps, Man Ray and many more. I loved it. A lot.
One of the most interesting parts of their permanent collection was a hallway of paintings and mosaics that had been created based on those paintings. It was incredible to see the precise detail the artists were able to get in the mosaics. They hand cut and worked with tiny pieces of glass and stone, yet were able to replicate almost exactly every shape, form, color and design seen in the original paintings.
Directly to the left of the MAR was the Basilica di Santa Maria in Porto. Built in 1553, it is home to the Sanctuary of the Madonna Greca, the Patron Saint of Ravenna. (I don’t have any photos of the interior because there was a service going on when I went in.)
The way the entrance to all the mosaic churches works is you get an 8 Euro ticket pass that gets you into all 5 of the big main churches. Upon activating the pass, you have seven days to visit all the churches (once each).
The first church I went to was by far my favorite, the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. This church, built in the 6th century, was built using a rectangular Roman hall of justice floor plan. You walk in, and you get tunnel vision right to the altar. I walked in and honestly just starting tearing up- it was so breathtakingly beautiful. The Baroque altar here was built 1,000 years after the mosaics, so it’s not actually that impressive or important (compared to the mosaics). The mosaics run along the whole length of the nave. On the left side of the church, the mosaics depict a procession of haloed virgins bringing gifts to the Madonna and Christ Child. The right side depicts Christ on His throne with four angels, awaiting a procession of 26 martyrs. One of the things that is so visually pleasing and striking about these mosaics is the repetition. The majority of the space is taken up by processions of people who all look very similar to one another. Another incredible fact about these mosaics is that they were created using pieces of glass, gold and stone the size of a finger nail! It is hard to imagine such tiny pieces going into creating such large mosaics. It was a spectacular space.
My next stop was the Battistero degli Ariani, which was only a couple blocks from my hotel. This baptistry was constructed in 526 by Theodoric the Great, the Gothic king at the time. It serves as the baptistry for a small church nearby. Can you imagine being baptized and looking up at that mosaic of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River?!
I stopped by a supermarket on the way back to my hotel and got some lunch. After eating, I headed back out to explore some more.
My first post-lunch stop was the Basilica di S Vitale. This basilica was built in 540, during a tough time for the Roman empire. During this time, they were constantly being raided and attacked by barbarians. Emperor Justinian ordered its construction in hopes of lifting spirits and creating a sense of pride and stability.
On the same grounds as the basilica was the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia. This mausoleum houses some of Ravenna’s oldest mosaics.
Next, I walked down the street a little ways to the Domus dei Tapppeti di Pietra (the House of Stone Carpets). The 12 rooms of mosaic floors, dating back to the fourth century, were just discovered in 1993.
A few blocks down the street from the House of Stone Carpets was a little mosaic school and shop called Annafietta.
Later that night, I spent a couple hours FaceTiming with my family. My whole family-parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins! It was good to catch up with all of them.
Day 2: June 19
I got a kind of late start this day. Mom and I were talking and trying to get tickets for stuff when the whole family gets here and it took foreverrrrr.
I was out the door around 1:30. My first stop was the tomb of famous poet, Dante Alighieri. When Dante died, he was not the most well liked person because of his political beliefs and practices. To protect his bones from being stolen or worse, they were hidden inside the walls of a monastery in Ravenna for over three hundred years. When they were found again in 1865, this mausoleum was built and his bones placed inside.
Right beside his tomb was the Dante Museum. The museum goes through the life of Dante, his struggles and his career as a poet. One of the most interesting things in the museum was a series of three rooms that depicted the three sections of the Divine Comedy, Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. The museum also houses the original box that Dante’s remains were stored in while hidden in the monastery walls for over three hundred years.
Next, I walked a couple blocks to the Neonian Baptistry. Constructed in the year 400, it serves as the baptistry for the Duomo di Ravenna, which is right beside it.
I walked about 10 feet across from the baptistry into the duomo.
My last stop for the day was the Archiepiscopal Museum. This museum, inside of the duomo, houses ancient statues and paintings as well as the impressive mosaic Chapel of Sant’Andrea. (no photos were allowed inside. *eyeroll*)
Day 3: June 20
I took a day trip to the Grotte di Frasassi (the Frasassi Caves) near Genga. I got a really early start. My first train was supposed to leave Ravenna around 6:30. Long, long, long complicated story short, the first train didn’t show up, thus majorly delaying and complicating the rest of my scheduled travel to Genga. But, it’s all good. I eventually got to Genga to see the caves.
The Frasassi Caves were discovered in 1971 by a group of college age cavers. Scientists belive that the cave system began forming between 400,000 and one million years ago. The cave system is the third largest in the world, behind the Son Doong Cave in Vietnam and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It was strictly forbidden to take photos inside the caves. (I did anyway with my phone…)
Tuesday, (June 21) I made my way from Ravenna to the coastal town of Monterosso in Cinque Terre, where I’ll be for a couple days.