Ravenna really delivers, if you have a passion for the 6th century. Today we saw the remainder of the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in this one city.
We started with the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, This was built by King Theodoric of the Goths as an Arian church, but 50 years later it was redone by Justinian in the Byzantine style. That still dates it till about 550, which is just one reason why those incredible mosaics are so breathtaking. Despite their age, they still radiate color throughout the church.
Though the “redo” of the mosaics to make them less Arian – this was all about the Trinity and whether Jesus was God or human – there is one place where the original mosaics weren’t completely concealed. There are two hands that still remain in places where it would have been awkward to replace them. Aren’t they wonderful?
We saw another baptistery today, this one from the year 400. The baptismal pool was much deeper, but the building has sunk about ten feet over the last 15 centuries, so what you see is “modern” and not very deep. Perfect for throwing pennies into. Work was being done on the dome, but these mosaics were just as impressive as the ones we saw yesterday – but they didn’t move.
It is right next to Ravenna’s Duomo, which was made from parts of the much older church(es) which previously occupied that space. When the Duomo was built in the 18th century, big pieces of the old church were re-purposed. Look at how the floors contain slices of columns and various other pieces of older ornamental work. They at least left the 6th-century pulpit standing.
A real thrill of the day was a visit to the House of Stone Carpets. In 1993, the stone floors of a 6th-century Byzantine house were revealed. The archaeological work continued down to the 2nd-century Roman level, but what has been restored and presented are the beautiful designs and images of what decorated this luxury house in the 6th century – with 12 rooms on the level we can see today. This was a show-stopper.
We loved this town and our time here, though we did spend a lot of time dodging the bikers. Ravenna has more bicycles than any place we have seen since Amsterdam. This is a real city that just happens to attract tourists, rather than a city that exists only for them. That makes a real difference, and that’s why we were able to find a real laundromat that got all our clothes clean! Recognize Don’s shirt going by in the dryer?
Don’s Food Corner
Not to be defeated by a restaurant oddly closed on a Thursday, we returned to yesterday’s first choice restaurant and, unlike yesterday, it was open! The staff must have been resting up because today they were all in top form. We could peak into the kitchen and could watch the action. When we sat down I saw the chef making some swift and rapid stirs into a pot of risotto and carefully dishing it out.
Despite witnessing that performance, we went with a starter of cappelletti with Bolognese sauce. We’re getting close to Bologna, so we are confident that we’re getting close to tasting the real thing. And yummy it was. Clearly the pasta was homemade (I assume whenever the pasta is not uniform that it’s been handmade). The ragu was both delicate and rich at the same time. Nothing came out of a jar for that. A great success.
For a second course, I ordered pan-fried sole. Since it was priced at only $9, I wasn’t expecting much. But it turned out to be a whole fish — head, tail and skeleton intact – perfectly sautéed in a little olive oil and butter. I wish I could prepare a whole fish that deftly; I’d do it all the time, although I’m not sure I could find a whole fish of that size in the market for only $9.
Jo went with — surprise — scallopine Milanese. This wasn’t as successful. Let’s be kind and called it breaded cardboard. Since Ravenna is a seaside town, clearly the fish was the better choice.
A carafe of house white wine served the meal well.
This restaurant was clearly NOT a tourist-centered operation. Although there were a few tourists in the crowded restaurant, it was mostly filled with locals and people who knew the owner and staff. That’s how a restaurant maintains the high standard that we enjoyed both today and yesterday.
Until we hit Venice late next week, we will be in places that, while not exactly undiscovered, are not in business primarily for tourists. We expect, therefore, to enjoy more of these non-tourist restaurants. I know you were concerned for us.