After breakfast the next morning we
toured the festive indoor market across from the hotel and snagged a
couple of freshly made piadini for the road.
We were on our way south, down the coast and up into the mountains
to Urbino, but on the way out of Ravenna we planned to stop at what we
were told was the most beautiful of all of the Byzantine churches, the Basilica
di Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, in the middle of a field south of the
city in the ancient Roman port city of Classe, founded by the emperor
Octavian Augustus in the 6th C. (See
photo at top of Ravenna story for exterior view.)
But, first we had some business to
take care of. On the day
before we departed for Italy, I dropped my Palm Pilot on our stone steps
and smashed the screen. Ugh!
I had spent considerable time accumulating the various resources
for our trip and organizing them into neat files with names of
restaurants, monuments, museums – all with addresses, phone numbers and
opening times. It was an
essential resource. I did
have a paper back-up, but the idea was be free of books and paper while
out and about. So we opted to transfer all the data to Kris’ Palm Pilot
– but it was a Pam V that did not use batteries and had to be recharged
after about a week. There was
no way to get a 220v charger, so we decided to go for it, conserving as
much energy as possible. Well.
It was now out of gas. I
had done some inquiring and found that there was one – only one –
dealer that carried Palm products – and his office was on the highway we
were taking out of town. I
had very, very low expectations for a good outcome.
The Palm V was in very short supply, people paying a premium for
them in the US, and the chances that they would have a charger available
seemed ludicrous. But we
stopped. Amazing. They
had a single Pam in stock, and it was a V.
I explained my problem to the young English-speaking clerk.
"No problem," he said. He
unlocked the case, took the shrink-wrap off the Pam V, and removed the
charger. He took me in the
back room, plugged in the charger and said.
"Give me your Pilot and come back in a few hours; it will be charged
for you!" Miracles can even be
hidden in a young man working in a computer store in Italy.
We headed for the 6th C church.
Basilica of Sant’ Appollinare in Classe
I guess if I were powering through
this area and had to pick only one monument to see it would be this
ravishingly serene church. The
setting is beautiful, with the church fronted by a green field.
We were struck with the solitude of the place.
There is a small parking lot.
Empty. No one in
sight. There is a nice statue
of Augustus next to the church, reminding you of who built it.
For about a ½ hour we had the place to ourselves.
The mosaics on the apse are justifiably among the most famous in
the world. They are
strikingly beautiful in a kind-of folk art way, with the image of Christ
depicted as a great jeweled cross and the 1st bishop of Ravenna
(Appollinare) praying in the middle of a verdant field filled with
An interesting anecdote.
When visiting churches from this very early Christian period we
have noticed a recurring image of a pair of peacocks generally drinking
from a fountain. We have
tried over-and-over again to find the significance of this image.
It always appears prominently, and we have been pressed to
understand why it has not been explained in any of the reference books.
It is not something that I associate with Christian symbols.
We particularly noticed this image on the altar screen at the
beautiful Basilica on Torcello and in motifs in the floor mosaics at the
Basilica of San Marco in Venice, both buildings of the same period as this
church. And, too, there are peacocks
carved in the Throne of Maximian that we had seen yesterday.
While we were touring the National Museum the day before, we came
upon a room given over to a monumental cartoon – the chalk or crayon
drawings directly on the wall where the craftsman would apply mosaics.
It was from the basilica in which we now stood.
A decade or so ago, they embarked on a reconstruction project for
the basilica and determined that they needed to completely reconstruct the
apse. When they removed
the mosaic (now, that is a documentary I would love to see!) they
discovered underneath that the original design was to have a parade of
peacocks drinking from fountains – explained on the English wall plaque
– " the ancient sign of LIFE." So it took an image hidden for 500 years to make its way to a
museum for us to understand this image.
Apparently, the artist changed the design on the fly as the mosaics
were being applied, and the creativity shows in what we have today in the
facing rows of white horses.
The apse that is behind the mosaics today is resin, plastic and
who-knows-what. Hopefully it
will stand for another 1,500 years.
After satisfying ourselves with the
basilica, we paused in the tourist caffé adjacent and fronting the
parking lot. We could only
imaging what this place was like during the hectic summer.
But, now in November, it was pleasantly serene, and we had the
not-too-cold patio to ourselves. A
quick trip back to town (yes, of course, getting hopelessly lost and
tangled in the one-way streets) to the computer dealer just before closing
to retrieve the fully charged Pilot.
I gave the amazing clerk a 50,000 lire note.
I had to insist to overcome his reluctance, assuring him that it
was worth as much and I was ever-so grateful for this kindness.
Ravenna deserves to be considered
seriously as a destination, but for more than the truly deserving mosaics.
Unlike other famous Italian cities that have become caricatures of
themselves, Siena comes to mind, Ravenna provides a glimpse of not just
history, but a culture alive and vibrant today.
It lives within this beautiful city, preserving the old, cycling
around its streets, and sharing its goodness with all comers.
There is no pretension here. No
tourist exploitation mindset. There
is precious little good information available in tourist books or on the
Internet to suggest that a sojourn to Ravenna will be as rewarding as we
found it. Our recommendation
would be categorically to include Ravenna on your Italy schedule.
Book yourself into the Albergo Cappello for at least one,
better two nights and steep yourself in a wonderful experience of