I learned today that there are eight World Heritage listed sites, mostly churches, in Ravenna. All but one are in the original part of town. The old part of town is not very big: that's a lot of World Heritage per square inch! They're listed because of the Byzantine era art that is still fantastically preserved - particularly the mosaics. I took myself off to view two of the eight: the Basilica San Vitale (in town) and the Basilica Sant' Apollinare in Classe (just out of town).
Both churches were built in the late 540s, not all that long after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Sant' Apollinare is bigger and more airy but San Vitale has the better mosaics. According to Wiki they're the best Byzantine mosaics outside Istanbul. Makes me think I should go to Istanbul.
The colours and the incredible detail have to be seen to be believed. There are some repeated motifs that appeared in several mosaics in both churches: the lamb of god and the hand of god in particular. It took me a while to work out why there were so many sheep in the mosaics!
Even the marble pillars, especially in San Vitale, are beautiful.
In between churches I had a bit of a wander round the old town. It's quite small compared to places like Rome and Florence. Much less crowded too. There were a few tour and school groups around but, apart from them, the place was relatively empty. Suited me fine :) There is also almost no graffiti. I did see a couple of scrawls but, unlike other places, it's not always there in your face. Refreshing.
Tomorrow I'm off to Venice.
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