Nov. 18: Ravenna
It feels so strange to be writing this, but we’ve all been saying it, so I guess I have to…today was our last lecture, our last day of class, our last day on the road of the FSP. It’s a little bit surreal; I can’t believe how fast nine weeks has gone by. It seems like just yesterday that we were romping around the tombs of Cerveteri and Orvieto and learning about the wonders of hut-urns (sigh)—and now here we are in Ravenna talking about a completely different kind of mausoleum!
This morning—brilliantly sunny but very cold; we’ve discovered that Ravenna fall feels a lot like Hanover fall—we took the bus out of Ravenna proper to the town of Classe (Latin Classis), the Adriatic dwelling-place of the Roman fleet (and the Roman port). In the 6th century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian took back Ravenna for the “Roman” empire (now run out of Constantinople; the Western Roman empire is sadly in shambles, and Rome itself is, I think, pretty grim), and built a bunch of new churches in the city. This morning we saw the second of the two, San Apollinare in Classe.
Now I have to admit (this is a big admission of nerd-hood, which I have to make fairly regularly these days) that I’ve been hoping to come to San Apollinare in Classe since my senior year of high school when we discussed the mosaics of the church in AP Art History. I was particularly fascinated by what seemed to me to be horribly inaccurate sheep. The church did not disappoint; not only were the sheep just as silly as I remember them—they have ridiculously long tails! Sheep don’t have tails!—but the other mosaics were just spectacular. The colors—the green and blue—were beautiful, and (as usual) the use of gold was very impressive. What I think is so cool about this particular church’s mosaics is how they create a visual representation of the hierarchy of the church: you’re there, looking up at the altar, where your local priest would be; above him is the flock of lambs, the church; standing amongst them is the local saint, Apollinaris; above him is the cross flanked by three sheep (who we think are apostles); above that is the hand of God flanked by Moses and Elijah (the two Old Testament figures who were sent to heaven and became angels); and finally, above the hand of God, is a rather severe-looking Christ. You can trace the hierarchy of the church through the decoration—it’s so cool. (And the sheep are pretty great too).
I can’t believe the term is over—of course, we have an “in-class” essay tomorrow that will wrap up our work—but I’m so happy we got to end it in Ravenna, away from Rome. Now I can remember Rome as a glorious ancient city and not the rather decrepit one it became after the 4th century CE. We were all so happy to be back in Rome this evening, and it’s really started to feel like home. It’s been a great place to spend nine weeks. And now that I’ve been all sentimental about how attached I’ve grown to the city, I’ll add this: I will NOT miss traveling through Termini. That place is a mess.