Turin/Torino

Torino, or Turin, is not like any other city I’ve been to in Italy, and honestly, it didn’t quite feel like I was in “Italy” anymore. (Truthfully, now that I’ve been all over Italy, Italian is such a misleading adjective; there are not many constants.) The city, like Trieste, clearly had some glorious periods in the days of yesteryear and yore, but Turin wears its age better. It, unlike Trieste, does not have the shipping component, so it makes it feel a little less seedy — read: not at all seedy. However, unlike Florence, Siena, Rome, Venice, or Naples, Turin doesn’t seem to get its share of [American] tourists (this is my subjective understanding).

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The view from my airbnb’s window. The city was completely charming architecturally, even if it was rainy.

I was only in Turin for a little while, mainly to visit another town that was super small, so I do not know a lot about its history. The main points of historical interest are that the Turin was the seat of the Dukes of Savoy, later the royal house of Italy, and the first capital of unified Italy. The seeds of unification were first sewn in Turin. If you have been to any town in Italy, chances are you have seen some street, square, or other landmark with the name “Cavour” (literally at least one in every town); this refers to Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour who was from Turin and instrumental in Italy’s unification.

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The Piazzetta Reale, in front of the Royal Palaces of Turin, where the city’s museums are housed. You can see the main train station, Porta Nuova, if you follow the main street to the end.

In Torino, a few unhappy trends began for my trip — if I had to say I had a “bad leg” of my trip it would start here (even though I didn’t have a bad time). Turin began what I refer to as the “week of Rain.” It wasn’t actually a week where it rained on my trip, but it felt like it. However, there were a ton of covered sidewalks and storefronts that permitted folks to walk around without getting (very) soaked. The Great Curse of No Internet also began in Torino; my airbnb tried to get it working but they couldn’t verify what was wrong. Now, I’m a little ashamed to admit how much this stressed me out. The internet was my lifeline. I had settled into a really comfortable routine on this trip where I did all of my stuff out and about during the day, had a late dinner, then settled in for the evening with a few eps of whatever show was available to me on Netflix in Italy or France. Just the *noise* of someone speaking English to me helped with the loneliness factor A LOT. Losing that stressed me out. A lot.

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My breakfast one morning…bicerin (it sounds like you’re calling someone the b-word), a cornetto con crema and some biscuits. Bicerin is a Piemontese drink that was invented in Turin that has espresso, chocolate, heavy cream or milk, and whipped cream. It was divine.

I only had one day to explore Turin and a I had a lot I wanted to do. The Museo Egizio had come highly recommended and as the only museum dedicated solely to Egyptian antiquity outside of Egypt, I had to go. It is a fantastic museum. Now I do have to be honest, for someone who had been used to quiet Croatia, relatively quiet Rimini and Ancona, the Museo Egizio was a little overwhelming. It was field trip central and I swear every Italian aged 6-9 was squeezed into the Museo Egizio the day I was there. I remember my field trips as a kid, and ones I’ve run myself as a camp counselor in college. You were in a line, there were many many rules and failure to follow the rules meant you could lose field trip privileges! Not the case here…I was overwhelmed and overstimulated by the noise. And the clerk said it was quiet that day.

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One of the statues from the Gallery of Kings — don’t remember who, and it doesn’t matter, they all look the same (that’s on purpose) — The internet says Seti II

The collection was frankly fantastic. Turin houses some of the most precious Egyptian artefacts in Europe; much of it gained through archaeological exploits in the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection was organized chronologically, with ample and informative labelling and wall text, and audio guides that you could tailor to your level of interest. One of the things I enjoyed, but am still not sure how I feel about it, is how the museum consciously engaged with more controversial parts of its history. Collecting practices of the 18th and 19th century were often thinly-veiled pillage; while not necessarily coming down in judgement upon the folks who did the pillaging, the Museo Egizio definitely didn’t shy away from at least talking about it in great depth. And that is super important. Honestly, I won’t say you should go to Turin just for the Museo Egizio, but if you’re there, you really should go. Give yourself the entire morning.

Snaps of the Savoy Palace: Ballrooms, entryways, hallways, and armories

The Savoy Palace was the next stop on my list. In Italy, several “museums” are often grouped together and form one big museum, and that was the case here. I came to the Savoy Palace not to see the royal residence, but to the visit the archaeological museum. Fortunately, they give you no choice, you have to go through most of the museum to get to the archaeological bits. It was a great museum, though I wish I were more up on my House of Savoy trivia as it would have been more enjoyable to know the historical figures who were associated with the palace.

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Silver bust of the second-century CE emperor Lucius Verus 

The highlight of the Savoy Palace was this guy right here. This ancient silver bust is extremely rare. While busts of precious metals certainly existed in antiquity, many were quickly melted down and reused. This, like most ancient objects in precious metal, was found in treasure hoard in 1928. The objects were buried, likely in late antiquity, for safekeeping and never reclaimed. It was so much larger than I expected, not quite life size, but close.

Since Torino was my last stop in Italy, I wanted to make sure I did all of the eating. AND I did. I didn’t eat one bad thing. Mmm. I miss Italy.

Ancona: A Day in Marche

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View of Ancona from the Ferretti Palace, it was a gorgeous day

My brief day trip to Ancona was another thing I was not very excited about. It’s a prominent harbor/seaport on the Adriatic, and for whatever reason I had an impression that the city could be a little rough and gritty. It’s not entirely untrue, a large part of the city, especially on the outskirts, is unrelentingly industrial and it doesn’t have…the polish, of other cities in Italy, but it was by no means a place where I felt unsafe even for a moment.

It was however very hilly, and for the first time, the train station was much farther away from where I needed to go, not crazy far, but just not close. It is in many ways super liberating as an American to train into a city and use your feet to get everywhere you need to go. Ancona was this trip’s exception. Between the hills and the distance, I decided to take a taxi to the Archaeological Museum, which was at the apex of the hill, in the 16th-century Ferretti Palace. English was not a thing here in Ancona, at least not to the folks I interacted with, and again that’s fine– there was a brief hang up because I only had a 50 euro bill, and I misunderstood the price of admission, but it all got worked out. (SideNote/ProTip — in Europe, always go to BNP Paribas ATMs …they give you a choice on you’d like your bills distributed. I know there are others that do it, but BNP Paribas ATMs are everywhere. NOBODY in Europe likes a 50 euro bill unless your purchase is 50 euro even.)

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The Ferretti Palace and the harbor at Ancona — The Ferretti Palace is blocking the view of my arch, which is in the harbor below. You can see a reconstruction of a group of equestrian statues on the roof…more on that momentarily. 

This museum was technically the archaeological museum of the Marche, the region to which Ancona belongs. It focused super strongly on the proto and pre-historic eras of history, with a nice glimpse into the Greek and Roman history of the city as well. I had the museum entirely to myself. So I took my time exploring, and taking care of business. There was a lot to see that was interesting, and lots of sherds and things that (sorry sherd nerds) I glossed over. It was nice to take my time and have so much to wade through.

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The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola, c. 1st century BCE/CE  (a copy of the original currently in Pergola)

On my way out, the woman working the front desk stopped me and told me to follow her! It was in this moment that I learned I can a) understand Italian a lot better than I give myself credit for and b) I do very well when the subject matter is something I’m super familiar with– like ancient Roman sculpture and art. She told me that a lot of people missed seeing these guys, and they were important and no one goes to Pergola so I needed to check them out. The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola were found in Pergola in the 1940s and they were housed in the museum in Ancona until the 1970s when they were moved back to Pergola in a specially built museum. This is apparently a sore subject, based upon the guide’s tone and description. A copy was made however, which is what you see above. The Gilt Bronzes are SUPER important because they’re the largest surviving gilded bronze equestrian group from Roman antiquity. It comprises two equestrian figures (2 men, and 2 horses), and two women — the second rider doesn’t survive, and all of the other figures are fragmentary. Even in modern copy, it was impressive.

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Isn’t this picture just so stereotypical Europe? At least in the minds of Americans? 

After finishing up on the museum, I made the descent down the GIANT HILL OF ANCONA (after the flatness of Venice and Rimini, I was spoiled) to find my way to the Arch of Trajan, the major reason for my visit. Along the way I saw many scenic vistas and buildings, continuing to erase the negative conception I had previously had about Ancona. It wasn’t like any other Italian city I had been to (there are SO many wonderful little cities and towns that are each unique in their own way), but it was charming in its own right.

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You can see the more picturesque Ancona (foreground) juxtaposed with the kinda-gross-Ancona (background) 

I eventually wound myself down the switchbacks of the hill, and started upon the track to the arch. It was like immediately being in a different town because in order to get to the arch, you had to walk past a good mile of harbor stuff — a lot of it passenger ships. There were a few restaurants (most closed it was Sunday) and a nice walking path with the nice soft squishy material (what is that stuff called?) A good number of folks were out and about enjoying the pleasantly warm day.

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The Arch of Trajan at Ancona 

Eventually, there it was. The Arch of Trajan at Ancona in perhaps one of the most confusing juxtapositions of old and new that I’ve seen yet. The picture above captures some of it, but from all sides you had visible evidence of at least two millennia of cultural activity. It’s an impressive structure, one that was surprisingly difficult to photograph, thanks to the steps on the approach. It was a great spot for taking cheesy pictures of me in front of my arch thanks thanks to the architectural assemblage in the surrounding area.

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Me and my arcchhhh 

The rest of my time in Ancona was fairly brief and I had my only experience with the trains being messed up in Italy. The train was 45 minutes late. Luckily I didn’t have to be anywhere, but I was currently in a difficult spot because I *really* had to pee and the bathrooms only took 50 cent pieces and I didn’t have any (things were also closed because Sunday). The train FINALLY arrived, and I go to get on my car 3. Car three is closed down and other Italian speaking individuals spoke to the conductor who told them in very rapid Italian SOMETHING and gestured toward the rear of the train (and here’s where I learn how bad my Italian is)…I just follow them as they walk down the cars. Eventually we are stopped by another conductor, he examines each of their tickets and tells them something and I think he just assumed I was with them because I was just standing there like “uh…..Inglese?” and he’s like “Oh yeah! Car three is at the end. After car 8.” So to sum up, 45 minutes late, and two “Car 3″s! Ah the fun of travel!

Rimini: A Pleasant Surprise

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The unfinished Tempio Malatestiano, designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the mid-15th century — the construction of this church’s history and its patron is scintillating. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta wanted the church to serve as a mausoleum for himself and his lover (later his wife). Eventually, Malatesta was excommunicated, ran out of money, and the church was never completed as planned. Alberti was super influenced by ancient Roman monumental arches — here he has divided the facade into thirds (like the Arch of Constantine) and the rondels in the spandrels are a clear reference to the Arch of Rimini, which is a short walk away. 

Rimini is a beach town on the east coast of Italy, a popular vacation destination for many Europeans. I admit, that I was not looking forward to visiting this small town and was not very excited about it.

Don’t you just love when you have to eat your own words?

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View of the historic side of Rimini and the 1st-century BCE bridge the Ponte di TiberioIt was a delightfully spooky day and very “unbeachlike” weather, which is probably why I loved it! 

Turns out that the train tracks split the town down the middle. On one side, you’ve got the beachy bits of the town and on the other, the older more historic area. All of my activities avoided the beach side and were firmly located in the historic center. Of all of the towns I visited in Italy, I felt the most comfortable here and I can’t really say why. It may have been my AirBNB which was a family home run by a woman whose children were grown. I felt like I was in a home, and not a hotel. She was so kind; I had a giant breakfast waiting for me every morning and a kind smile when I came home. We could not converse very well…her English was like 25x better than my Italian, but my Italian is *really* bad, but we tried! This was probably one of my favorite places I stayed.

When I rolled into town after a short train ride from Ravenna, I had very little time to get settled before having to jet to the city’s archaeological museum. I dropped my stuff and walked the short walk to the museum. Long story short, I arrived in Rimini on a Saturday, Sunday I was planning on visiting Ancona because the museum I needed to visit was closed on Monday. I THOUGHT that Rimini’s museum was open on Monday, but it was NOT. I was only in Rimini until early Tuesday morning, so I had to go RIGHT THEN.

The museum was probably one of the best local museums dedicated to archaeology that I visited (in Italy). There are TONS of regional/city-based archaeological museums all of various degrees of qualities. This one was pretty spectacular. It was right next to an archaeological site that was covered over, the so-called House of the Surgeon, and then the museum itself was spread over 4 floors. It was a lot of fun, and exactly the kind of museum I was into, super focused on the city’s development over time from literally the beginning of time to the modern era.

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One of the in-situ mosaics from the House of the Surgeon in Rimini; super cool preserved archaeological site! 

The rest of my time in Rimini was spent exploring the arch and the ancient bits of the city itself. The arch in Rimini was also way more impressive than I was expecting. First, it is HUGE. Second, the sculptural components on the arch are so much smaller than on later arches that are intricately decorated (like Septimius Severus or Constantine’s) that scholars have often described them as being diminutive. I didn’t find that to be the case, AND I think it’s a problem. For more, see my dissertation 😉

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The Arch of Augustus at Rimini (27 BCE) facing the entry to the city — on the opposite end of the main road through town you come to the Ponte di Tiberio. The arch was encorporated into the city walls during the medieval periodwhich explains the nice little crenellations.

The city has great medieval- and renaissance-era remains that I definitely did not explore as much as  I could. I explored exteriors and that was about it. I definitely want to head back to Rimini some day, and I’ll just have to do the new bits then.

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The Piazza Cavour in Rimini

Ravenna, The Glittering Jewel in Italy’s Crown

“O lone Ravenna! many a tale is told
Of thy great glories in the days of old:
Two thousand years have passed since thou didst see
Caesar ride forth to royal victory.”

“O fallen! fallen! from thy high estate,
O city trammelled in the toils of Fate,
Doth nought remain of all thy glorious days,
But a dull shield, a crown of withered bays!”

-Oscar Wilde, in his poem “Ravenna

The title of this blog should be preposterously bombastic, but Ravenna is nothing short of a miracle. The town itself did not stun; each town in Italy has its own character and so too does Ravenna, but it was a special kind of northern Italy ritziness that I did not love (or hate…it just didn’t speak to me or enthrall).

Yet, Ravenna was worth the three train rides and bus ride and thirty-one year wait. I started the day with my Italian preference a cornetto con crema and a cappuccino. I purchased my ticket that was good for San Vitale, Galla Placidia’s Mausoleum, the Orthodox Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Museum, and the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.

San Vitale (left) and Galla Placidia (right) are neighbors. Galla Placidia predates San Vitale by about a century and a half (give or take), but I visited San Vitale first. Galla Placidia has always been my favorite and I wanted to save it for last (of the two). It was so strange to see the interior of this church that I knew so well from pictures in person. Strange because it was so very familiar but in three dimensions AND the emotional response was legit.

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Looking into the apse with the sixth-century mosaics.

I won’t go into huge amounts of art-historian detail, but I spent a lot of time looking at the mosaics. I also spent a lot of time eavesdropping on people as they were talking about the mosaics. Fortunately, most of the tourists that day were French, so I could follow along…especially because my French art historical vocab was “on fleek.” (That’s what the young kids are saying these days, right?) There was no source of light besides sunlight from the windows, and the greens and golds of the mosaics sparkled. The purple worn by the most important figures (Jesus, Justinian, and Theodora) highlighted them even more emphatically in person (because of the LIGHT) than is possible in photographs, even good ones.

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One of the mosaics from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, with the Chi Rho and Alpha Omega, and grapevines all Christian iconography/symbols. 

The Mausoleum itself is very small, though the ground level has risen over the centuries so that it is even smaller. The interior of this small building was magical. It was kept dark so that you can really see the mosaics. I was in there for about 10 minutes before it all went to hell (when about 40 French high schoolers tried to cram themselves into the small building that was already pretty occupied. I left Galla Placidia much faster than I had hoped.

After the super crowded Galla Placidia, the Orthodox Baptistery was a welcome respite. I had the structure nearly all to myself, except a few older ladies and couples. The structure was smaller than I expected and that made the mosaics all the more evocative and impressive.

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After the Orthodox Baptistery, I headed over to the neighboring Archiepiscopal Museum, which was probably the most deserted of all of the sites I visited (I found out that the few friends who have been to Ravenna, none of them actually went to the museum, haha) and that is just too bad. The museum houses the material collection of Ravenna’s cathedral and lord, is it impressive. It includes a lapidarium (stones! usually inscriptions), episcopal regalia and ornaments. BUT the icing on the proverbial cake is the Chapel of San’Andrea and its mosaics (built during the time of Theodoric) and the Ivory Throne of Maximian, pictured above. The bishop’s cathedra is made of so many pieces of ivory (:( poor elephants and rhinossss) that are so intricately carved it took my breath away. Literally no one else came in the room while I was there. A few folks stuck their head in and looked at the chair like “why does this old chair have its own room?”

After lunch and getting a little lost, I went to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the last of the churches included on my ticket. By this point, I was SUPER tired and the cobblestones had done a number on my ankle. So few people came to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (there was one group there while I was) and I was the only person under 50. I definitely was starting to get a little saturated. It’s a term I came up with to refer to what happens after my brain has gotten overstimulated by what I’m seeing. It’s not that I’m not excited or entranced by what I’m seeing, but that sponge that is my brain has reached maximum saturation. It had been dipped into much art-historical liquid to fully retain anything else very well. I took a break for a while at a coffeeshop that was SUPER modeled after an American coffeeshop (I chose it for location) and wrote postcards.

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The last stop was the Arian Baptistery, which I got to see for free. I had it all to myself (besides the very uninterested guard who was playing on her iPad). I didn’t stay super long, just looked my fill at the dome and then headed on my way.

My brief, one full day in Ravenna was just long enough to see nearly everything I wanted to see. I did not get out to see Sant’Apollinare in Classe (it’s a few miles out from downtown), not technically in Ravenna, but in the town of Classe. I walked past, but did not stop at Dante’s tomb (bad girl); I was on a mission that had nothing to do with 13th-century poets. I ate a lot of good food and gelato, and saw nearly all of the requisite late-antique sites, and checked a giant item off my bucket list.

Take my word for it. If you have even a small appreciation for art and history and you’re in north-ish Italy, take a few days and a few extra train trips and say hello to this city that holds so many critical art historical masterpieces that are not visited nearly enough.

Meet Gussie

Meet Augustus, Gussie for short.

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Gussie is a gift from my friend Lindsey (she had it MADE for me, by a friend of hers! Check them out!). He’s a delightfully nerdy stuffed version of the Augustus of Prima Porta; I mean, the details are amazing, from his protruding ears, to the distinctive hair style, and his gesture. He’s one of my favorite possessions and I love him so much.

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Two Nasty Women and and Emperor: Me, Best Friend Ashley, and Augustus out adventuring in Nashville in January 2017

This might be a little superstitious of me, but he’s going to be like a good luck charm for me on this trip. A little token and reminder that I love what I do, I love the folks I’ve met along this academic journey (and some of them are fond of me too, I guess), and to live in the moment and be happy. Because dang if this little guy doesn’t make me happy.

Gussie brushing up on his French history before we head off to Europe! He’s very up on current events. 😉 

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EuroTrip Redux is 100% BOOKED

Travel and lodging for EuroTrip 2.0 is DONE. I leave in less than a month.

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Planning this trip again has been hard. Harder than planning it originally hard. I fluctuated between planning the trip EXACTLY as it had been before, and doing it completely differently. I settled on a happy medium. I’ll be following the same trajectory, sans London. I will not be staying in the same airBnBs, besides the one in Pula, which was from the advertisement, everything I needed and like RIGHT next to my arch.

The stars above indicate overnight stays…I’ll be traveling to many other places besides those listed…but you’ll have to follow my instagram to stay updated on the day-to-day.

Now that it is all planned, and I’ve taken care of a few other things that had me stressed, I AM ACTUALLY EXCITED.

I GET TO SEE PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME (kinda. In April).

From the Archive: Destination Spotlight, RAVENNA, Italy

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My visit to Ravenna is my second purely for pleasure trip. I have no reason to be there other than some of the most important art historical masterpieces from the late antique/early middle ages are found within its borders. Since antiquity, the city served as an important port on the Adriatic as well as occasionally serving as a capital for the Western Roman emperors and the Ostrogothic monarchs, eventually becoming the seat of the Exarchate of Ravenna (the seat of the Byzantine governor in Italy). In the 8th century, Ravenna was taken over by the Lombards, and thus ends my knowledge of Ravenna’s history. Truthfully, I have no expectations from the city of Ravenna; I’m going for its architecture.

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Check out the details found in the mosaics of San Vitale

I’ll be spending one weekend in Ravenna and I will be going to see a LOT of churches and a few tombs. Number one on the list is arguably one of the most important 6th century churches in Italy, and Europe, San Vitale. The structure and the mosaics are well preserved and I LITERALLY CAN’T WAIT to see them. Notable among the mosaics of San Vitale are the Theodora and Justinian mosaics which depict the imperial couple presenting the instruments of the Eucharist to the church in a process of officials. Richly colored in blues, greens, and golds, these mosaics demonstrate the sensory nature of early-medieval worship.

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Looking into the apse (the holiest spot of the church). In the conch of the apse, you have Christ depicted with full imperial symbolism…he is surrounded by two angels, Saint Vitale, and Bishop Ecclesias who initiated the construction of the church. 

I don’t know if I’ll be able to see all of the churches I want to see, but top on my list besides San Vitale are Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, San Giovanni Evangelista, and the Arian and Orthodox Baptisteries. I’d like also to visit the Mausolea of Galla Placidia and Theodoric.

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Sant’Apollinare Nuovo from an aisle looking into the nave. 

Sant’Apollinare Nuovo was built not long before San Vitale, but instead of the Byzantine central-plan domed church of San Vitale, we have a traditional basilica form (a long church with a center nave, and at least two surrounding aisles, all axially oriented towards the apse where the rituals would be performed). What is interesting about this church is that it was built under Ostrogothic rule as a Palace church for the emperor Theodoric. The Ostrogoths were Christians, but believed in a “heretical” form of Christianity called Arianism (long story short – questions the divinity of Christ and the notion of the Holy Trinity). When Ostrogothic rule ended, the church was not destroyed and we have noticeable examples where the mosaic program of the church was altered to reflect both the change in the political situation AND the religious shift to orthodoxy.

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Sant’Apollinare Nuovo mosaic that depicts the Ostrogothic palace…this mosaic shows obvious signs of being altered…can you spot them? 

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (so-called) is a pretty early structure that has some remarkable mosaics, both figural and decorative. My favorite of the mosaics is a depiction of Saint Lawrence and the instrument of his martyrdom. Saint Lawrence was an early-Christian martyr that was literally *grilled* to death. In this mosaic Saint Lawrence is standing beside his flaming gridiron; next to the gridiron is a cabinet with the handily labelled books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, or the Gospels.  Fun Fact: St. Lawrence is the patron saint of barbecue….chew on that for a few…PUN INTENDED.

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Saint Lawrence with his grill…..and you can see where I got the image for my blog header

My plans for visiting Ravenna just reinforce, in my mind, how much of an art historian I am. I do not study early medieval/late antique/Byzantine art, nor do I study Christian art, but I LOVE THIS STUFF. I cannot wait to see it…the pictures take my breath away, so I can only imagine the impact it will have in person.

What is a place you can’t wait to visit? The most hyped place you’ve ever been? Did it live up to your expectations? 

This is sixth in a series of blog posts that I will be doing to talk about where I am going during this trip, why I am going there, and what I’m expecting to see.

Paris * Besançon * London * Venice * Pula