Ravenna - the city of mosaics
In 2002 a giant photomosaic was exhibited in London city center. The photo was a composite of 39 000 photos taken of 3 500 people blended together so that they shaped the face of 15 people.
The image entitled ˝You can˝ was created by Rankin and Robert Silvers who trademarked the term photomosaic and the algorithm they created to generate photo mosaics programmatically. The technique of computer-generated mosaic image was first used by Joseph Francis in 1993 when he created the poster Live from Bell Labs. The poster presented the mosaic of a face and it was so successful that later on several artists used it for their creations.
The technique of photomosaic has its origins in the art of mosaics dating back to 3000 BC in Mesopotamia. Without the digital technology of our time, the Mesopotamians created the mosaics from small pieces of colored stones or glass. The art became popular among the ancient Greeks and Romans, from the Middle East to the Byzantine Empire. In the Renaissance era the mosaic lost its popularity and was rediscovered in the 19th century. Nowadays it is trendy in street art and popular craft and is a source of inspiration for new form of art such as the photomosaic.
The ancient mosaics are part of the Unesco World Heritage. The city of Ravenna has 8 Unesco World Heritage Sites. As the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the Ostrogothic Kingdom, the Exarchate of Ravenna under the Byzantine government and the seat of the Kingdom of Lombards, Ravenna flourished in terms of art despite the many battles that the city suffered during wartime. Particular attention was given to details in the churches of Ravenna and they are rich in mosaics.
Basilica of San Vitale
Located in the city center, near the National Museum of Ravenna, the Basilica of San Vitale is a masterpiece of Byzantine mosaics. The interior is rich in historical portraits of Justinianus I and Theodora, of the emperor and the empress with their attendants and of Christian elements illustrating important biblical events such as the Sacrifice of Isaac, the story of Abel and Isaac, Moses and the Burning Bush. Elements representing nature also richly embellish the walls of the church: leaves, fruits, flowers, birds, animals, stars.
The Basilica is open for visitors every day from 9:00 until 19:00. Buying a combined ticket for a fee of 9:50 Euro you can visit the Basilica of San Vitale, the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Neonian Baptistery, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
Western Roman Empress, Galla Placidia ordered the construction of many churches during her reign, but only the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia survived. The mausoleum contains 3 sarcophagi: one dedicated to her, one to her son, emperor Valentinian III or her brother, Emperor Honorius and one to her husband, Emperor Constantius III. The interior of the mausoleum is beautifully decorated with mosaics. The alabaster windows illuminate the mosaic of the Good Sheppard and the golden nature motifs on blue background well.
Just like the Basilica of San Vitale, the Mausoleum is open from 9:00 till 19:00. Due to the small space in the mausoleum, only a limited number of people are allowed to enter at a time. Therefore, the queue at the entrance might be long and you might need to wait even half an hour/an hour to enter.
The Baptistery of Neon (The Orthodox Baptistery)
The octagonal building, constructed on the place of a Roman bath, is believed to be the oldest monument of Ravenna. It was finished by the Bishop Neon and during his time a superb mosaic was added. The mosaic represents the biblical event of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the river of Jordan. Jesus is covered waist-height by the river and they are surrounded by the 12 apostles. Just like in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the golden mosaic dominates on the blue background and elements of nature are added to the decoration. Under the ceiling, at window level a row of white marble is added as decor element, beautifully enlightening the interior of the building which sunk 3 meters since its construction.
The baptistery is open from 9:00 till 19:00 and the combined ticket is valid for it.
Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo
A 10 minute walk distance from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is the Basilica of Sant´Appolinare Nuovo. The church was initially built as the chapel of the Ortogoth King Theodoric the Great, but after his death it was considerably modified. According to the legend, the mosaics were blackened under Pope Gregory the Great who believed the decoration to be so bright and shiny that it distracted people from the prayer. Another change was made when the relics of Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe were transferred here.
One characteristic which differentiates this basilica from others is the location of the mosaics: supported by Corinthian columns, the mosaics decorate the walls under and around the high windows.
They represent both religious and historical events: a series of 26 martyrs both on the left and on the right wall, saints, wise men, the Mosaic of Justinian supposedly covering the original mosaic of Theoderic, the mosaic of the Palace of Theoderic, the ancient port of Ravenna, Jesus on the throne guarded by four angels.
The representation is unique and beautiful. It´s so detailed that you get might get stuck admiring the details for a long time.
The basilica is open from 9:00 until 19:00 and the combined ticket grants access to it as well.
If your curiosity for mosaics has been satisfied, you might want to visit the ruins of the Palace of Theodoric as well, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the National Museum of Ravenna, the Cathedral of Ravenna, Piazza del Popolo or Dante´s tomb.
Ravenna is a charming city with rich history and a precious heritage. We can rediscover for ourselves the story of the people who shaped our history, enrich ourselves with the knowledge they had gathered and carry on their legacy creating new art forms.