Ravenna - Mausoleo Teodorico
Continuing along Via di Roma, you will reach the Palace of Theodoric, a ruin with some brick walls, where fragments of the floor mosaic are still visible. Beyond the Teatro Rasi is the church of Santa Maria in Porto, with its late-Baroque façade, and the town’s Art Museum (MAR), located within the monumental area called Loggetta Lombardesca.
This venue hosts many art exhibitions, as well as a permanent collection of medieval and modern art, it includes a mosaic documentation centre and a collection of contemporary mosaics, from the 50s to the present.
The town exploration would not be complete without a visit to the Basilica of S. Apollinare in Classe, which lies some 8 km from the centre of Ravenna.
Built in the early 6th century, it is one of Ravenna’s best kept and most charming churches. Alone and majestic, it rises over a wide green valley with its red bricks standing out from the grass. It was built by Julian Argentarius, commissioned by archbishop Ursicino over an area that was used as burial grounds between the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century.
The church has been described as the greatest example of Paleo-Christian basilica. Despite the vandalism it suffered over the centuries, the church still retains the beauty of its original structure and is admired for its splendid colourful mosaics.
The ‘in classe’ part of the church’s name derives from the ancient Roman city of ‘Civitas Classis’, built within the port defence over the Adriatic commissioned by Caesar Augustus. Towards the end of the 1st century, St. Apollinare arrived in that town and created the first Christian community, becoming its first Bishop. Upon his death, he was buried in the burial grounds outside the city of Classe, where the Basilica is now.
The church has three naves, separated by a double row of 24 magnificent columns, made of horizontally veined Greek marble and crowned with very unusual Byzantine capitals. Along the central nave walls you can see a series of medallions representing the Bishops who lived in Ravenna.
The magnificent apse and triumphal arch are entirely covered with colourful Byzantine mosaics. Alongside the side naves are 10 Greek marble sarcophagi, used to bury bishops from Ravenna.
Let us continue our tour with a visit of the Mausoleum of Theodoric. Located outside the town, in a park not far from the centre, the Mausoleum of Theodoric is the Ostrogoths’ most celebrated funeral monument. It was commissioned around 520 AD as Theodoric the Great’s future tomb, and built in a then uninhabited area, near the necropolis of the Goths.
This building is different from all the other monuments in Ravenna, because it is not made of bricks but rather of blocks of Aurisina stone. In Byzantine times, it was used as a church devoted to the Madonna and named ‘Santa Maria ad Farum’ because of its closeness to a port.
The mausoleum is a ten-sided building, centred like many other Roman mausoleums, it has two floors: the first has ten sides to the outside, with niches covered by solid round arches in each side, and a cross-shaped space inside, possibly used as burial room;
The second is smaller, and can be reached through an outside stairway. It is also a ten-sided structure on the outside, but it becomes round at the level of the frieze. The inside space is also round, with only one crossed arched niche. Today it holds the red porphyry basin that contained the body of the King, whose spoils were removed during the Byzantine rule, and has no covering slab.
The most surprising feature of this building is its roof, formed by a single dome-shaped monolith, also made of Aurisina stone, measuring 10.76 metres in diameter and 3.09 in height, and weighing 230 tons.
It travelled by sea and was hoisted over the building using its twelve loops (eyelets). It is still not clear today, how they managed to position the monolith on top of the building. There are two hypothesis: it could have been placed over the building as this was being constructed, or the architects could have built a sort of dam, a ‘pool’ around the completed mausoleum, carrying the monolith over the top with a raft.
This last visit completes our tour of Ravenna. With the outstanding beauty of its mosaics and architecture, Ravenna is surely one of Italy’s most charming cities.