Thursday, March 28, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 394

Castelvecchio, Torre del Mastio, Verona, Italy

This unused postcard distributed by Silvana Editoriale has a photograph of the Torre del Mastio in the Castelvecchio.  Castelvecchio is a medieval fortress built 1354-1356.  When our friend visited Verona, Italy he sent a couple of postcards and this is one of them.

The planning and constructing of the Castelvecchio fortress took a prolonged period of time beginning about 1298 when it is thought that Alberto I of Scala commissioned the building.  Part of the wall follows the shape of the nearby river.  During the reign of Alberto (1277-1302) there was incessant war and a need for this type of fortification.  The city of Verona had a population of over 40,000 prior to the Black Death or bubonic plague of 1348-49. 

There are many historic buildings in Verona and as a result it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Since there was a Roman military settlement in Verona there are still monuments from that era that have survived to the present day.   It was interesting to learn that although some of the Roman roads are mostly hidden from view they still exist almost intact about 6 meters or about 20 feet under the surface.  Also most houses have cellars built on Roman artifacts that are rarely accessible to visitors.  A strong earthquake in the year 1117 destroyed or damaged many buildings resulting in a massive Romanesque rebuilding. 

As always, thanks to our friend who sends postcards.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 393

Ravenna, Italy

I did not get postcards from all the places we visited in Ravenna, Italy but this one has a selection of views.  It is also a Ediz. Salbaroli issue and has the number 379 on the reverse, lower left corner. 

Ravenna was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 to 476.  During a period peace the Christian religion was favored by the court and resulted in the astoundingly beautiful mosaics for which Ravenna is renown.  Some of the panels on the card show more famous examples of the mosaics.  Many Biblical scenes were reproduced in mosaic as well as symbolic birds, like white doves, and animals that were intended to represent some of the apostles; St. Luke is seen as the bull and St. Mark as a lion.  In some places I felt like we shouldn’t be walking on the floor it was so lovely and so very old.  For example, the small bird seen second from the bottom on the right side of the card was part of one decoration on the floor.

 On some sections of the floor the restoration and cleaning process was shown

Our friend explained that like Venice, the city of Ravenna was built on a series of small islands and is slowly sinking.  We noticed supporting rods inside many of the buildings.  And in one church the floor of the crypt had dropped 4 feet, then it filled with water. Goldfish swim in there today.  

Looking down on the sunken crypt floor where some visitors have also tossed coins

There is an opening for visitors to peek in and see the sunken crypt.  Notice the mosaic tiles on the floor under the water.  However, unlike Venice, the streets are real streets and not canals.  The historic sites are well within walking distance of one another.  We parked the car in a public lot some distance away and had an enjoyable day walking around and able to see all the places on our entrance pass to the UNESCO sites.  

Ravenna is a charming, pretty city with the typical outdoor cafes and flower stalls

It is not clear how long a settlement was at Ravenna before Roman times but the name is thought to be Etruscan.  Originally there was a lagoon with several small islets and marshy ground where houses were built on piles.  It was overlooked for a time by the Romans but later became a federated city.  Julius Caesar gathered his troops here before crossing the Rubicon.  The city had a wall to protect the harbor making it an acttractive place for the Roman Imperial Fleet.  Today the city is landlocked.  Ravenna prospered and benefited from its association with the Romans.  One of the benefits of the Roman rule was a 70 m or 43.5 mile long aqueduct built by the Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century.  Roman authority was dissolved in the late 5th century and transferred to Odoacer who ruled as king for 13 years.  Theodoric replaced him in 493.  Much of the construction was carried out during the 6th century and later.

It was easy to see on this map of the UNESCO sites that was posted on the wall of one of the buildings that it is not difficult to walk to all the sites.

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Baptistery of Neon, Ravenna, Italy, 2018

 Baptistery of Neon, Ravenna, Italy

On our trip last October I attempted to get postcards everywhere we went but for a variety of reasons was not always successful.  I did; however, take lots of pictures.  One of the places we saw and did not get a card from was the Baptistery of Neon.

A view of the Baptistery from the opposite side

The Baptistery of Neon, or sometimes referred to as the Orthodox Baptistery, is the most ancient monument remaining in Ravenna having been built in the late 4th or early 5th century.  And yes, the tower in the background of the picture is leaning.  Not as dramatically as the Tower of Pisa but like many others we saw in this part of Italy it is still tilted.  The building sits on the site of a former Roman bath and has a large octagonal font made of Greek marble.  Like the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia it is a small building with minimal lighting.  The shape is octagonal; with a stone/brick exterior, alabaster windowpanes, and once again is filled with gorgeous mosaics with quite a bit of gold leaf.  The ceiling mosaic is above the font and shows John the Baptist baptizing Jesus waist high in the Jordan River with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove.  The 12 apostles are found proceeding around the center mosaic and ending with Saint Peter meeting Saint Paul.  

Looking directly up at the ceiling

 The reliefs of Old Testament prophets are found between the windows

The center of the ceiling mosaic showing the baptism of Jesus by John the Batpist

Due to settling and sinking the original entrances to the baptistery are now 3 meters below ground.  An attempt at restoration was done in the 19th century and it is thought that there may have been some alterations to the original mosaics.  At the window level there are stucco reliefs of Old Testament prophets.  There are four arched niches in the walls.  In one there is a white urn that is a marble Roman vase. Another has a 6th century altar.  All the decorations have symbolic meanings not all of which are known.

 Roman vase

Pillar and arch decorations

The altar

This view shows the small interior

The baptismal font made of Greek marble.  The stairs up to the font on the left are roped off.  The font did not have any water in it.

The small booklet, “Ravenna and its history,” Edizioni Salbaroli that we purchased in lieu of cards provided historical information.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 392

Mausoleum of Galia Placidia, Harts at fountain, Ravenna, Italy, 5th century

This unused postcard, purchased at the gift shop in Ravenna, shows an interior scene at the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy.  It was one of the five UNESCO sites on the pass we purchased the day we visited.  The exterior of the building gave no indication of what we might find inside.  It is quite small and the guide at the door was limiting the number of people entering due to the size.  


Exterior of the Mausoleum di Galla Placidia, 5th century

Once inside marvelous delights met our eyes.  Everything from the gorgeous ceiling with its stunning blue Garden of Eden floral design in mosaic to all the other magnificent panels with animals and Biblical scenes were simply breathtaking.  There were “Ahs and Oohs” as each person entered through the narrow doorway.  

Garden of Eden ceiling with Good Shepherd mosaic panel, 5th century

The second postcard shows Christ as the Good Shepherd with his flock and the sky is in the Garden of Eden floral pattern.  Both postcards are Ediz. Salbaroli issues.

Although it is called a mausoleum it is not currently being used as such.  The most common story about the building is that Galla Placidia, the daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I and a patron of the arts, had it built to be used as a burial place for herself and her family.  There are three sarcophagi housed inside today.  The largest one supposedly contained her remains in a sitting position and clothed in an imperial mantle; however, in 1577, the contents of that sarcophagus were accidentally burned.  The designs and decorations used are to represent the victory of eternal life over death.

Sarcophagus of Gallia Placidia, 450, Ravenna, Italy

The other two sarcophagi contain the remains of her husband, Emperor Constantius III and either her son, Emperor Valentinian III or her brother, Emperor Honorius.

The floor of the mausoleum has been raised 5 feet since it was built in the 5th century in order to remain above the rising water along the upper Adriatic coast.  The windows here are alabaster, mosaics of Christian and Apocalyptic symbols cover the walls and ceiling.  Our friend told us that like Venice, Ravenna is gradually sinking.

Alabaster window framed by mosaics

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 391

San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

The postcard shared this week is one I picked up when we were in Italy last October.  The credit information provides Ediz. Salbaroli of Ravenna as the distributor.  The picture is a general view of the apse of the Basilica of San Vitale.  We purchased a pass to 5 UNESCO sites in Ravenna and this was one of those we visited.  Ravenna is known as the city of mosaics and all the sites we saw had plenty of them to marvel at and admire.

Entrance ticket with the Empress Theodora, 6th century mosaic in the center

Construction of San Vitale began under Bishop Ecclesius in 526 and was completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 547.  Julius Argentarius, who was a banker and architect, sponsored the construction of San Vitale and also the Bascilica of Sant-Apollinare.  The Baroque frescoes on the dome were added between 1778 and 1782.  The octagonal plan combines Roman and Byzantine elements.  It is famous for its Byzantine mosaics.  It is the only almost intact church from this period to survive to the present day.  

From the outside it does not look as fancy or imposing as some of the other cathedrals we saw but once inside it is truly amazing.

One view of the outside of the Bascilica of San Vitale

The apse
A mosaic panel on the right shows the Empress and her court.  On the left is a similar mosaic panel with the Emperor and his retinue.  The two panels are among the most famous to be found in the church.  This photo was taken just before a tour group started gathering around.

 Visitors are dwarfed by the high dome in the center of the octagon.  Walls, floors and sections of the ceiling are covered in mosaics with frescoes in the dome ceiling.

The dome fresco

This second card, seen below, is another beautiful mosaic with a heron and a tortoise.  It is another distributed by Ediz. Salbaroli of Ravenna.

 Heron and tortoise mosaic

Emperor Justinianus I mosaic, 6th century

The mosaic with the Emperor Justinianus I is located in the apse opposite the panel with his wife.  This photo was taken from the image on the information placard outside the building.  While we were there a tour group entered. I didn't take photos of the panels possibly because the group was clustered around them and there was not an opportunity to get unobstructed pictures.  The Emperor is wearing purple and has a halo.  The halo was used to show that he was the leader of both church and state.

The floors, walls and ceilings all have mosaics and the top of the dome has beautiful frescoes.  The warm Italian sunlight shines through alabaster windows.  The mosaics are in the Hellenistic-Roman tradition with animals, birds, plants, and people in rich colors and covering nearly every available surface.  Walking in one is astounded by the interior size and height at first and then looking down realizing that the floors are also covered in mosaic designs. 

Details of small sections of the flooring.  Three of many different patterns and designs on the floor.

Like other places in Spain and Italy we noticed a lot of marble and tile.  The flooring between the mosaics was marble.

Details of a small sections of the flooring.  There were many different patterns and designs on the floor.

I do not know how high up on a list of places to visit in Italy Ravenna might be for most tourists but it was well worth it.  Special thanks to our friend with whom we stayed and who provided transportation, translations, and guided us around.

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