Dwight Peck's personal website

A visit to Ravenna, late May 2013

It's not just about the mosaics. But it's mostly about the mosaics.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Ravenna (3)

Three days of mosaics, maybe it's time for a little change.

Kristin doing laps around the fortress of Rocca Brancaleone

Ravenna was annexed by the Venetian Republic in 1440, and the massive Brancaleone Castle was built in 1457, partially to protect the city and mainly to protect the Venetian mercenary garrison from the citizens.

What is presently the main gate leads into the enormous citadel, now a public park (drawbridges up at sunset), and the inner Rocca or castle is there at the northern end of it.

The castle itself, on the far left, is set up public concerts, and . . .

. . . the vast inside of the fortress (17,000 sq m.), presumably with its stables, barracks, training grounds, and what not, has been converted into an attractive public park.

Now we've just got to go round the back of it, over the rail line to the east, and find old Theodoric's famous mausoleum. More mosaics, maybe?

Modern Brutality

The rail lines through the eastern side of Ravenna

There it is. Theodoric's Mausoleum, at the head of a public park that stretches nearly a kilometre northwards. They say that we can measure the degree of civilization of a city by the amount of green park space within it.

Theodoric built his prospective tomb in 520, six years before his death, in an area a kilometre north of town that had been a cemetery since Roman times.

The thing is built in a pure Gothic manner of massive blocks of stone from the Istrian peninsula (now part of Slovenia and Croatia), carted across the Adriatic on a huge raft, including the 300-ton single-piece roof. The King was interred here in 526 on the spherical upper floor (the function of the ten-sided lower level seems not to be very well understood), but when the Byzantines marched in in 540, they dug the Old Heretic out and scattered his remains all over, and turned the building into a Christian oratory.

A strange porphyry sarcophagus shaped like a bathtub, which may or may not have contained the King's remains. There's a replica of Theodoric's Mausoleum at the Taplin Gorge Dam north of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, USA.

Dissenso Cognitivo

The Church of St John the Baptist dates from the 1680s, but the campanile is medieval. However, as we're strolling past from the northern suburbs . . .

. . . we see advertisements for an artistic crèche, and who can resist an artistic crèche.

Okay, where's the crèche?

Neat scenes -- look at the Ku Klux Klan procession left of centre . . .

. . . and the guy carrying the huge something-or-other on the right [a kind gentleman named Jaques has suggested that it's a Punch-and-Judy style puppet theatre].

One of the great things about these is when they move around and smoke comes out of the chimneys and lightning flashes in the sky behind them, and so on, but our euro in the box didn't win anything this time. They all just stood there.

So there's not much reason to stick around here then.

Our Civic Tower round the corner from our hotel. Subsiding into the marshes it is, evidently, but strengthened at the base and, in fact, they've taken the top floor off it because it was weighting the thing too far off kilter.

The Piazza del Popolo -- it's our last day here, 24 May 2013, and we need to visit Dante before we leave.

"To every Italian city its Garibaldi monument"

This is the Museo Dantesco or Dante Museum -- very nice. Newly opened a year ago in an old monastery, and with a manifestly dedicated staff (toiling to explain the library's holdings to us in English until Kristin put the poor man at his ease and just translated the best bits for me).

Dante-ish displays -- brilliant displays, in fact, especially for the schoolkids. There's a Dante Museum in Florence, too, which we whirled past a few years ago, but since the Florentine Black Guelphs condemned the poor man to perpetual exile in 1301 (revoked by the Florence city council in 2008) and Ravenna took him in in his last years, and buried him here, we reckon we're in the REAL Dante Museum now.

The cloister, with interesting modern statues

Dante died in Ravenna in 1321 at about 56 and his funeral was held in the Basilica of St Francis next door. The city of Florence claimed his celebrity remains, which was refused, and when the city of Ravenna reverted to Papal authority under Medici popes, the Franciscan chaps thought it provident to stick the great poet into a little box and hide him away somewhere. The Florentines, waving a warrant signed by Leo X in the early 16th century, went away with nada to put into their Dante tomb niche in Santa Croce alongside Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo (and more recently, Enrico Fermi, who's actually buried in Chicago).

In the early 19th century, when Napoleon suppressed the religious orders, the Franciscans buried the Dante Box in the flooring and went off to make their own accommodations with the new regime. The box was found in 1865, and now he's comfortably parked in his tomb just outside.
The Lord continues to work in mysterious ways.

Here we are, just outside the museum gates. Gaggles of schoolkids in the rain (probably joyous to be here).
We'll wait them out.

Apparently, the Divine Poet is really in there. I'm a big fan of the Comedy (in the English translations by Dorothy Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, Ciardi, and Mark Musa), though in the Paradiso I skipped to the end of find out how it turned out. T.S. Eliot once said something like: the Commedia is the greatest poem to hear read aloud, even if you don't know a word of Italian. In 1929 he wrote "Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them -- there is no third". [Not even Dashiell Hammett?]

The Piazza of St Francis -- we're bound for the Rasponi Crypt back through that arcade on the left.

Well, okay, a crypt is just a crypt in the end.

Gentlemen staring at you fixedly (even in the days before NSA surveillance)

Street scene, with a piadina shop down that alley. Wouldn't that be a good idea right now?

Back in the Piazza del Popolo, on an errand

Piazza scene, with Kristin

Window shopping

Ah, at last. "Piadina, the Food of Romagna" (the first published recipe was in 1371)


Back through the Piazza on our way to the hotel on the far side (clutching delicious piadine)

The maid's still working on our room, so we'll park here for a while instead.

One flips a nearby book at random, and there she is. Good grief (literally). It's our favorite Mary Magdalene.

A salon in the Albergo Cappello (do rich bankers schmooze here when meeting to carve up the debtor countries?)

After a brief restorative repose and a trip to the john, we're back on the hoof.

To stock up

"The Conversation"

The so-called "So-called Theodoric's Palace" on the Via Roma. Though still so called, it was apparently the front end of a church of San Salvatore. Back in the day.

Nice front end (how often do we yearn for an opportunity to say that without a slap?). Theodoric's Palace is now thought to have been just down the block near the Basilica of Apollinare Nuovo, but it was wrecked by the Lombards and finished off by Charlemagne.

The Basilica of St Maria in Porto, on the Via Roma, begun in 1553 and only completed in 1784, it looks it.

Plenary indulgences for Pilgrims (496 years after Luther's theses). But there are condizioni! You need to repent your sins, confess and what not, and pray for the Pope. That's it. And maybe an offering. Easy game.

Oooff, no need to linger.

But wait: here's one of the original six wine jars from Christ's miracle at the wedding at Cana. Fancy that.

German tourists with their camper vans!

Here we are next door -- The Museo d'Arte della Città or "City Art Museum", with its Borderline exhibition.

I too have a borderline, and the Borderline exhibition wasn't within that for me. But here's the fine cloister (every cloister is a fine cloister).

We're always driven to discover what Jesus and the apostolic fellows were eating at the Last Supper, and this thing, though plausible enough, doesn't decide the question either way. Frequently, it just looks like a rat.

The St Maria in Porto church, the Borderline city art museum, and a horse statue. But now we have to leave, tearfully.

The next day, Kristin and her rollie-bags are off to the rail station, and so am I.

For economy of tourism experiences, we're stopping in Domodossola on the way home.

We reflect on how many times we've traveled over to Italy from the north and glanced out at Domodossola when the train stopped at the station and thought to ourselves "what a hole". Well, it's not.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 7 July2013.

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