Be Italian - Day Eight

Although we had decided to spend a whole day and a half in Ravenna in hopes of pursuing a more relaxed pace here, we ended up being quite busy once more, though I did let Dad sleep in some today.

This statue of Augustus in front of Sant' Apollinare in Classe made the trek out there worth it in Dad's eyes.
We started our daily sightseeing at Sant' Apollinare in Classe, a church somewhat far afield, located in a small neighboring hamlet where some very important Roman-era archaeological excavations are underway. This was the original church dedicated to Sant' Apollinare, who was the first bishop of Ravenna. He was originally buried there as well, but barbarians were apparently in the habit of raiding the church to steal his remains, so Sant' Apollinare Nuovo (which we would see later in the day) was built in Ravenna proper so they could move him there and keep him safe. A debate would later come about regarding who actually had them, and things got so hostile that the Vatican had to send a team of investigators to settle the matter once and for all. (They determined that the new church never had the remains and they had been in Classe all along.)

I'm sure there's some symbolism behind the fact that some of the sheep have been sheared and some haven't, but it's beyond me.
The apse of the church has some spectacular mosaics, more in the Byzantine style than Roman, as they were finished later than some of the other buildings around town. The iconography here seemed to focus on sheep, as there was a depiction of both Christ surrounded by 12 sheep signifying the apostles, and one of Sant' Apollinare surrounded by a flock of his own followers. I was impressed, and glad we schlepped out to see it (it was included in a comprehensive ticket we had to buy, so why not?) 

Another tripod photo at the Battistero Neoniano.
Back in Ravenna, we had a taxi drop us off at the Battistero Neoniano, a 5th century baptistery on the southwest side of town, with the plan to make a counterclockwise loop around the city. The Battistero is the oldest monument in Ravenna, having been built in the early 5th century on the site of a Roman bathhouse (a source of water for the font.) We found the ceiling and much of the wall space there covered in mosaics, the centerpiece depicting the baptism of a nude Christ by St. John the Baptist in the river Jordan, (which is notable, because as time went by and the Church got obsessed with modesty, nobody depicted Jesus naked anymore, even when he probably should have been.The Battistero degli Ariani, which we saw later, had a similar,even more explicit depiction of his nudity.) An outer ring of mosaics shows the apostles, and beneath them are several ornamental motifs and depictions of some of the prophets.

Jesus and St. John the Baptist, getting their baptism on.
Exiting the baptistery, we took a brief stroll through the adjacent cathedral of Ravenna, where the only thing that stuck out to me was the abundant use of terra cotta, which makes sense, given Ravenna's proximity to neighboring Faenza, where the popular faience ceramics come from. The region, being close to the sea, is rich in clay deposits.

Under other circumstances, if I hadn't seen so many other amazing churches on this trip, I'm sure this would be impressive.
Also in the same complex was the museum of the archbishop's palace, which is made up of a number of buildings of different eras, one of which contains a chapel dedicated to St. Andrew, for the private use of the bishops of Ravenna. It wasn't clear when it was built, but it too has an incredible assortment of mosaics, and may have been my favorite of the day, especially a decorative portion consisting of numerous different types of birds.

Made before it was cool to "put a bird on it."

A rather lengthy walk delivered us to the Baroque church of Santa Maria in Porto, which Dad insisted on seeing after he spotted it in a book I had purchased yesterday on the art of Ravenna. Our long hike, however, turned out to be for naught, however, as the church was taking the customary three hour Italian lunch break.

Santa Maria in Porto.
We ourselves were in search of a meal at this point, but seemed to be in an area bereft of eating establishments, when we came across the Palazzo di Theodorico, an archaeological site consisting of ruins with a small exhibit of Roman floor mosaics located at the top of a tower I had scaled on a whim.

I love this portrayal of Lazarus rising from the dead... a lot.
It was next to the next mosaic site on our list, the aforementioned Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, which actually had the most diverse set of depictions we've seen so far. The mosaics cover each side of the nave, one with a procession of virgins bearing offerings to the Virgin and infant Jesus, the other with a line of martyrs bringing gifts to the adult Christ. Above each, more interestingly, are small mosaics depicting the miracles of Jesus and various parables of his life. My favorites included a mummy-like Lazarus rising from the dead, and a cripple that Christ had cured now carrying his own bed.

Check out the animal print leggings on the magi -- very fashion forward!
At this point, we were desperate for food and quick approaching the time when kitchens close after lunch. (Most restaurants in Italy close from 2:30-7:30 at night), so we set aside the tourist agenda and focused on finding a decent-looking restaurant. We wandered around looking until we came across the place we were planning on having dinner, and were so desperate that we decided to eat lunch there instead. It turned out to be fairly decent (I'm rather fond of the capelleti that are a regional specialty in these parts. They are similar to tortellini, but their filling is meat-based rather than cheese and vegetable), though I wasn't crazy about the tomato sauce on my gnocchi, even if they were light as a feather, texturally speaking.

Finally sated, we back-tracked a bit to locate the Battistero degli Ariani, the last site on our UNESCO hit list for the day. I think the Battistero Neoniano was more impressive, but I liked the depiction of Christ's baptism better at this one. Evidently, however, this baptistery, which was completed by a rival sect to the one who built the earlier building, was originally more decorated than we see today. An excavation at the site discovered nearly 100 pounds of glass tiles that had fallen from the walls over time.

At the Battistero degli Ariani.
Since we had a large chunk of afternoon left and little to do, we decided to check out the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra (or home of stone carpets), an underground archaeological excavation located under a church that was turned into a museum to showcase the floor mosaics of a Roman palace that was located there. After all the lavish colors, opulent gilding, and general splendor of the churches we've seen in Ravenna, the Domus was anticlimactic, but still moderately interesting and they had a couple nice figurative pieces.

This mosaic at the Domus portrays a dance of the four seasons.

After a brief pit stop at the hotel, which was nearby, Dad was determined to enjoy the day's fine weather with an ice cream in the Piazza Popolo, a particularly picturesque medieval square, so we did just that. I had a scoop of hazelnut and one of chocolate, and it was the best gelato of the trip
so far. After lingering a while and people-watching, it was back to the hotel for the nightly writing ritual and a largely unremarkable dinner in which we took advantage of our proximity to the Adriatic coast and had seafood. Tomorrow we move on to Venice, and I fear we'll soon find ourselves craving the quiet and calm of Ravenna...

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