A Month in Bologna

Saturday, June 18, 2011 11:35 AM


To test our theory that train travel made more sense, on Friday we traveled to Ravenna, known for mosaics dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries. The total cost for round trip train tickets for Ronnie and myself was $38, about the same amount as overnight parking for the car. Ravenna is a must see. There are four or five sites with mosaics which can be covered in a few hours.

A short history lesson is in order at this point. The Roman Empire was divided into two parts around 335 by the emperor Constantine. The Western part kept its capital in Rome and the Eastern in a smaller town called Byzantium, where the emperor moved. In a fit of hubris, he renamed it Constantinople (Istanbul, today). Well, this was a good thing because the West was overrun by barbarians a while later. A century or  two after the loss, the Eastern Empire decided it had to do something about it so Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora (not a namesake), led an army to reconquer Italy.

They decided to make the new Imperial capital at Ravenna instead of Rome, since it was a shorter boat ride to Constantinople. Being good Christians, they erected a number of Basilicas and other churches. The ones that still exist, though built of bricks externally, were decorated in mosaics internally, which was the popular art of that day. At some time, other buildings were erected around the original ones to protect them. The mosaics are still as colorful and vibrant as they were 1500 years ago. The best location to see them is the Basilica di San Vitale. To walk into the church is to enter a different era. On one side of the altar is a large fresco of Justinian and his hangers-on (in the photo), while the other side has Theodora and her retinue. Other scenes of life at that period cover other panels. 

Incredibly, picture taking is permitted. While a photo is a good thing, the overall effect has to be seen in person to be appreciated, kind of like the Grand Canyon. The other sites are interesting also, but don't have the impact of the Basilica.

I’ll mention one last picture, which is over the altar itself. It is a 6th century representation of Jesus with Angels and He looks quite different from all the the Renaissance versions.

I'll call it quits for today. There is more to be covered in the train trip itself, surviving in Italy and just overall impressions of the country, but I’ll save all that for another time.


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