Ravenna and its Mosaics
Your guide and your driver will meet you at the pier in Ravenna and you will depart to the centre.
A small, quiet, well-heeled city, Ravenna has brick palaces, cobbled streets, magnificent monuments, and spectacular Byzantine mosaics to remind you of its storied past. The high point in Ravenna’s history occurred in the fifth century, when Pope Honorious moved his court here from Rome. Gothic kings Odoacer and Theodoric ruled the city until it was conquered by the Byzantines in AD 540. Ravenna then fell under the sway of Venice, and then, inevitably, the Papal States.
Because Ravenna spent much of its past looking to the East, its greatest art treasures show that influence. Churches and tombs with the most unassuming exteriors contain within them walls covered with sumptuous mosaics. These beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaics put great emphasis on nature, which you can see in the delicate rendering of sky, earth, and animals.
You will visit the Basilica of San Vitale, built in AD 547, after the Byzantines conquered the city, and its interior shows a strong Byzantine influence. The area behind the altar contains the most famous works, depicting Emperor Justinian and his retinue on one wall, and his wife, Empress Theodora, with her retinue, on the opposite one. Notice how the mosaics seamlessly wrap around the columns and curved arches on the upper sides of the altar area.
You will also visit the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
Galla Placidia was the sister of the Roman emperor Honorius, who moved the imperial capital to Ravenna in AD 402. She is said to have been beautiful and strong-willed, and to have taken an active part in the governing of the crumbling empire. This mausoleum, constructed in the mid-5th century, is her memorial.
Viewed from the outside, it’s a small, red-brick building: the exterior’s seeming poverty of charm only serves to increase by contrast the richness of the interior mosaics, in deep midnight blue and glittering gold.
You will also visit the tomb of Dante is in a small Neoclassical building next door to the large church of St. Francis. Exiled from his native Florence, the author of The Divine Comedy died here in 1321. The Florentines have been trying to reclaim their famous son for hundreds of years, but the Ravennans refuse to give him up, arguing that since Florence did not welcome Dante in life it does not deserve him in death.
In the end you will visit Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. The mosaics displayed in this church date from the early 6th century, making them slightly older than those in San Vitale. Since the left side of the church was reserved for women, it’s only fitting that the mosaics on that wall depict 22 virgins offering crowns to the Virgin Mary.
On the right wall are 26 men carrying the crowns of martyrdom. They approach Christ, surrounded by angels.
Ferrara City of the Reinassance
You will depart from the port of Ravenna with your guide.
Once in Ferrara you will begin your guided tour of the centre.
Though it was settled as early as the 6th century AD, Ferrara’s history really begins with the arrival of the Este, who first made their appearance in the city in 1196. For more than three centuries the dynasty ruled with an iron fist; brother killed brother, son fought father, husband murdered wife. The majestic moated castle, now the architectural gem of the historic center, was originally built as a fortress to protect the cruel Este dukes from their own citizens; deep within the castle the Este kept generations of political rebels in dank cells. The greatest of the dukes, Ercole I (1433-1505), attempted to poison a nephew who challenged his power, and when that didn’t work he beheaded him. Though the Jews were already well established in Ferrara as early at the 1380s, it is Ercole I who invited Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain to settle in Ferrara, thus giving form to one of the liveliest Jewish communities in Western Europe. The maze of twisting cobblestone streets in the ghetto witnessed the persecution of its Jews once fascist Italy was officially at war with Nazi Germany in October 1943.
Today you are likely to be charmed by Ferrara’s prosperous air and meticulous cleanliness, its excellent restaurants and coffeehouses, and its lively wine bar scene.
Though Ferrara is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the city still draws amazingly few tourists—which only adds to its appeal.
Among the other beauties you will also visit Castello Estense.
Massive Castello Estense, the former seat of Este power, dominates the center of town. The building was a suitable symbol for the ruling family: cold and menacing on the outside, lavishly decorated within.
The castle was established as a fortress in 1385, but work on its luxurious ducal quarters continued into the 16th century. Representative of Este grandeur are the Sala dei Giochi, extravagantly painted with athletic scenes, and the Sala dell’Aurora, decorated to show the times of the day. The tower, the terraces of the castle, and the hanging garden have fine views of the town and the surrounding countryside. You can cross the castle’s moat, traverse its drawbridge, and wander through many of its arcaded passages at any time.
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