San Vitale

Battistero Neoniano

San Vitale

The Basilica of San Vitale sits within a complex of buildings, nicely maintained within a lawned open space, despite its center city location.  It takes a bit to orient yourself to the various buildings because the basilica is connected to the National Museum, and it is through this that you gain entrance to the basilica by passing back outside through a pretty enclosed loggia.  The first thing that we noticed was how the entire basilica sits several feet lower than everything around it.  Why is it that ancient buildings seem to sink and eventually even get buried?  The building is a very unusual and quite a beautiful form. It is a double octagon, one on top of the other.  I really found it a very peaceful place, but of course, there is great excitement at the fabulous mosaics.  We were really astonished at the colors.  A great deal of green, and so vibrant.  We were very lucky that it was not at all crowded so we could take as much time as we wished to study the mosaics.  There was a group of young students sitting in a section of pews listening attentively as their teacher described the art.  We couldn’t help watching them.  They were so intent. So interested. So mesmerized. So quiet. So polite.  It didn’t seem possible that our American students could sit still for several hours to study works of art. We were impressed and very jealous.

One of the basilica’s doors leads to the lawn and a path to the Mausoleo di Gala Placidia, which should not be missed.  This small round building has beautiful mosaics.  After we entered, a small tour group came in and the guide closed the door, blocking any light save for that that passed through the alabaster windows.  Quite beautiful.  It is in this mausoleum that are the famous mosaics of the Lamb of God and the doves drinking from the fountain.  While heading back to the basilica I was struck to notice that it had flying buttresses.  How odd, I thought.  I had always been told in school that the flying buttress was invented in France in the Gothic period to allow for the great height of the cathedrals with their huge stained glass windows.  I even checked this when I got home and the Abbey at St. Denis is credited with the first flying buttresses in 1160.  So I don’t know the answer as to why this building from 560 A.D. has flying buttresses.  The only rational answer would seem to be that they were added in the Middle Ages in order to strengthen the building.

Picture Gallery: San Vitale & Gala Placidia Mausoleum 
Click for larger image

Central Nave View

San Vitale showing Matroneum (woman's gallery)

Apse of San Vitale with beardless, youthful Christ flanked by Angels introducing St. Vitalis.

San Vitale Lunette with mosaic depicting sacrifices of Abel and Melchisedech.

San Vitale floor mosaic.

Geometric floor design, San Vitale.

Dome Ceiling of The Tomb of Galla Placidia.

The Good Shepard Mosaic with Intricate Blue domed ceiling in The Tomb of Galla Placidia

Alabaster Window in the Tomb of Galla Placidia
 with the famous mosaic of drinking Doves

After visiting the basilica we actually headed into the museum – something I would normally skip.  We traversed hall after hall where we were totally alone, the guides turning on the lights as we entered each gallery.  It is a pretty large museum with an impressive collection.  There is an entire wing of icons.  Beautiful, but there are miles of them.  Kris went crazy when we entered one gallery that consisted of an entire ancient pharmacy that was removed form the center city and dates from several centuries ago.  It is very impressive.  As we came back to the entrance where we bought our tickets, we walked into a large gallery where there was another group of young students.  They were sitting in a circle on the floor studying the frescos on the walls and ceiling.  They were exactly in the same spot when we entered several hours before!

Leaving the complex, we needed some bum time to give our feet a rest.  Come rest with us and then continue our journey.


On to Battistero Neoniano   
Go Directly to:

Ravenna Intro.

Battistero Neoniao

Ca’ de’ Vén

Dante's Tomb
San Francisco
Appollinare Nuovo
Teatro Alighieri

S. Apppolliare in Classe