Today was a “light day” for my typical vacations. We only did one city! 🙂
We left Bologna and headed East to the wonderful and surprising city of Ravenna.
Ravenna has been around forever. Was an Etruscan city and then part of the Roman Empire- being accepted in 89BC.
It’s greatest contribution to our modern culture is probably two different things.
The first is Julius Caesar’s “crossing of the Rubicon”. We still use this term to this day to signify that someone is making a risky move where there is no turning back… But there is (was) a real Rubicon River and someone did indeed cross it.
Hold on to your nerd glasses, we’re going in the way back machine.
Back in the days of the Roman republic, after Julius Caesar had defeated the Gauls around 51BC, he spend the better part of 2 years touring all the conquered lands they had seized and gathering and sending all of the spoils of war back to Rome. To understand all of the dynamics would be very similar to trying to explain all of the dynamics of our current congress as the situations draw a LOT of parallels.
The senate and ruling class was not very happy with Julius Caesar. They had spent the better part of two years trying to vote against him for his war with the Gauls stating that the Senate never authorized war in the first place so he was committing treason. (Afghanistan, anyone?)
Also, they were none to happy that all of the spoils of war flooding the city had driven down the prices of their gold to half of the previous prices. (Stock market? Bailouts?)
Also, prior to his conquest Caesar had run for office on a platform for the people, against the richest, promising change that would help the average Roman citizen. (ObamaCare? Tea Party? The 1%?)
The ruling elite were not too happy about his power, his success and his likability (ahem…Obama?) and were looking for any opportunity they could to exile or kill him.
Only problem was that Caesar had the golden ticket. “Imperium” they called it- basically above the law and unable to be prosecuted. But his period of imperium was running out and he knew everyone in Rome in power was looking to chop off his head. His only chance was basically being elected to the council during the upcoming election by absentee that would grant him imperium in his new role, thus allowing him to return to Rome and still enjoy his diplomatic immunity.
He had one last ally- Pompey or Augustus. Or so he thought. Over the years since he left Rome, his friend and leader of the republic had grown jealous at his successes and passed a law that started that no one could run for office by absentee, he must be present to declare- therefore throwing Caesar into a Catch 22.
This pushed Caesar into a corner. Laws, proposals, deceit, illegal votes and illegal processes all occurred that ended with the Senate declaring Julius Caesar an enemy of the state!
So, that brings us back to Julius Caesar with his 13th Legion supporting him, standing at the northeastern border of the Roman Empire on the banks of the Rubicon River in 49BC in his conquered kingdom of the Gauls, a hero to the people of Rome and a great conqueror but a declared enemy that was to be killed if he entered Rome.
So, he rallied his troops, gave a great speech and said “Let the die be cast” and he crossed the Rubicon, declaring war on Rome.
We know how that ended. Pompey ran away like a scared little girl and Caesar easily took Rome.
So, ummm….Ravenna. Yeah.
The second contribution to pop culture was a song by Cole Porter called “Night and Day” was inspired but the breathtakingly gorgeous and intricate Roman, Byzantine and early Christian mosaics, specifically a ceiling in a Mausoleum at the Basilica de San Vitale. Which just happened to be our first stop in town.
First, before the photos. The photos don’t do it justice. You have to experience these buildings. If you ever plan a trip to Italy and you are even remotely interested in art, Ravenna 100% must be on the list. The craziest thing is that we almost had the entire city to ourselves. We probably encountered 50 tourists the entire day. Ravenna. See it. Don’t let me down.
In 540AD, Justinian I- the Emporer of the orthodox Christian Byzantine empire- conquered Ravenna from the Ostrogoth King, Theodoric the Great. They were from Byzantium, later known as Constantinople, now present day Istanbul.
The Byzantine Bishops went a little overboard and built all of these amazing buildings in the next 150 years.
Outside of this basilica is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, easily my favorite place all day. This is the Starry sky mosaic that inspired Cole Porter, who visited Ravenna on his honeymoon, to write Night and Day”.
After this we happened upon a piazza with a carousel. Needless to say, we rode it. Ha
Next, we went to the Church de Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. This was the first original cathedral built by Theodoric the Great and is the oldest.
The darn Catholics completely changed and probably ruined the original mosaics. This entire wall was a Catholic change with 33 virgins and 3 magi leading them.
If you look closely you can see remnants of the originals. Look at the 3rd column on the right. It’s a hand. Call it a 5th century photoshop mistake. The Catholics didn’t like the Arian Ostrogoth rulers being shown in a cathedral…or possibly nudity being depicted…so curtains seemed like a natural replacement? Who knows.
Lastly we stopped by the Baptistry of Neon. Built on top of an ancient Roman bath.
After Ravenna we drove 3 hours across Italy to Florence. It was a beautiful drive.
Watch out for those parachuting cattle though…they’re a doozy.
Google Maps almost gave me a stroke when I realized I was on a pedestrian only side street and it was trying to route me across the Ponte Vecchio bridge. (Pedestrian only, very famous…more on that tomorrow). It took us 1.5 hours to get around less than a mile to our apartment for the next 3 nights…but it was worth it.
It’s an AirBnb find. Penthouse, 4th floor, 2 rooftop terraces with views of both Pitti Palace and the Duomo. I may never leave 🙂
We ate dinner overlooking the river and Ponte Vecchio bridge and had the restaurant to ourselves. Great food.
We have “skip the line” tickets to see the Galleria Academia at 8:15am to see the Status of David amongst other great works of art. So…I should probably not be typing this anymore since it’s 2:30am.Goodnight 🙂
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