I think that those days when you don’t expect too much (not in a negative way, but not every day is perfect) and then get hit by a bit of a joyous surprise are … uplifting. I wasn’t expecting too much from Ravenna based, it must be said, on my complete ignorance of the city. I knew it had some history (it was, at one stage, the capital of the Western Roman Empire) and was associated with a critical period when Rome split into an Eastern and Western Empire (the latter to collapse around the time of great construction in Ravenna), but the Eastern Empire (Constantinople) survived until 1453.

And so, on our first visit of the day, to Basilica do San Vitale and the adjacent Mausolea do Galla Placidia, simply blew us away. If you have a moment, take a look at the slideshow below.

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The East coast of Italy is, apparently, not an area much visited by foreign tourists, but heavily appreciated by Italians. To say that the town was swamped by schoolkids (mostly doing that bored-teenager-doing-cellphones … do Italian kids go to normal school or is it all the experiential crap?) is a huge understatement. In any case, it (mostly) brought a sense of life to the town, and the market, where we sat down for our most expensive coffee yet (€2). Markets here are never boring, and never cheap – having spent €5 on about 7 pieces of liquorice is indicative. Parmigiana cheese at €38 per kilo is way more expensive than in the supermarket or even artisanal shops – but very cool!

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Feeling close to churched out we sat and did some reading on the history of the churches in the area. It got very complex trying to understand the Arian Heresy and their subsequent persecution, which has a direct impact on the church artworks. As the Arians were in / out / in / persecuted to oblivion, so the church work changed to reflect this, with mosaics and frescoes demolished, overlain or altered to reflect current orthodoxy. I’m trying to make sense of Arianism (God created Jesus, therefore Jesus did not previously exist) as opposed to conventional dogma (Jesus has always existed) – well, your life depended on having the correct answer! Fortunately the congress at Nicaea sorted things out like which stories to include (Jesus turning water into wine was OK, Jesus lengthening wood so that Joseph could finish his project not OK so left out) etc etc. Hmmm. Feeling enlightened we proceeded to the Battistero Neoniano and Museo Arcivescovile, and then finished off with the Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. We skipped the other four Basilica ……

Calendar from 6th C, determining when Easter could fall (Rule: Not on the same date as Jewish Easter.)

All in all a wonderful day. We are parked in a large lot filled with dead and decaying campervans, some of which remain inhabited. Just finished an excellent Belgian Trappist beer (those guys are profitably employed!), hot water is on for showers, dinner is salami & cheese (after a €5 lunch) and great, cheap, Italian wine. Sun has just set (18:24) in a gorgeous blue sky …

Mosaic, with brilliant colours retained from 6th C! Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo

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