Telephone History: Ravenna
Welcome to Telephone History: a segment where I try to retell facts that I've learned about Italy on field trips, in class etc. *Much like a game of telephone, accuracy may vary.*
In this episode, we'll be taking a look at Ravenna, a quaint town in North East Italy that's famous for its early Christian mosaics. Only two and a half hours away by car (and I think even less by train), Ravenna makes a great day trip to do from Florence.
Early Christian churches were usually pretty bland on the outside, but had lavish mosaic decorations coating the entire inside. Each square of glass in a mosaic is called a "tesserae." They were purposefully put in irregularly so that light would bounce off of them more effectively. Swipe through to see what I mean:
Speaking of light, they used to use thin slices of alabaster in the windows instead of glass (because I
think glass wasn't invented yet?). I was surprised how well the light was able to filter through. The stone gives off a kind of glowy effect.
I always thought that early Christians just sucked at drawing and hadn't figured out how to make realistic figures, but it turns out that they actually did know how to make more three-dimensional figures (even with mosaic!) before this, and purposefully depicted two-dimensional figures to evoke a feeling of other-worldliness. The idea was that holy beings don't create cast shadows because they don't occupy the same physical space that we do. So actually, the early Christians were pretty ahead of the game. Like later cubists, they were purposefully manipulating space.
The most interesting part of Italian history for me is how everything is so old that buildings are often repurposed several times over. In the church of San Vitale, you can see you can see early Christian mosaic right alongside Baroque painting.
If you're not into mosaics, you can stop by Dante's tomb. Apparently he was a Florentine (which is why there's a monument to him in Santa Croce in Florence), but was exiled and spent the rest of his life in Ravenna. To honor his Florentine roots, a Tuscan olive oil lamp burns perpetually over his grave.
Ravenna is VERY proud to have his company and they have protected him very faithfully throughout the years. During World War II, they even hid his remains under a *very inconspicuous* pile of dirt and ivy to protect them from being bombed. They're also really paranoid that Florence is going to try to steal him back, so he's always under a lot of surveillance.
While you're in town, be sure to try a piadine, the local specialty. Piadine is a warm flatbread sandwich that is most popularly filled with squacquerone (similar to ricotta), rucola (arugula), and crudo (a kind of prosciutto).