Let’s be real—January is the literal worst month of the year for all in the Northern Hemisphere (except if you have a January birthday … maybe). Colder, grayer, darker. Depressing-er. Holiday highs are over and the winter doldrums have fully set in. Throw in a once-in-a-century pandemic and we all need an escape from the ordinary, even if only in our minds. So today, let’s escape to Ravenna, Italy. “Andiamo” (ahn-dee-AH-moe) … let’s go!
Ravenna (rah-VAIN-nah) is situated just off the east coast of Northern Italy on the Adriatic Sea, about halfway between Firenze (Florence) and Venezia (Venice), making it an ideal, albeit frequently underrated, day trip from either locale. What I find absolutely enchanting about Ravenna is that it’s wicked old. I mean, yeah, pretty much everything “on that side of town” is old, but Ravenna is truly an old soul and she exudes an almost mystical lifeforce, like walking through an ancient forest full of fluttering fairies and sage talking trees.
What gives Ravenna her mystical nature, you might be wondering? Two words—mosaic tiles. Although the exact origin story of Ravenna’s founding is unknown, we do know that she was the capital city for at least two world powers, the Western Roman Empire and the western capital of the Byzantine Empire (think Istanbul). And you better believe those guys loved them some mosaics. As such, the beautifully enchanting mosaic tiles seemingly bathe the entire city in an array of multicolored and dazzling light. It’s as though every building is constructed solely of these tiny sparkling squares. While she’s not exactly that grand, Ravenna does have many landmarks, old and new, that will leave you feeling as though you’ve entered the very gates of Heaven.
Ravenna boasts a whopping 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, all glittering in mosaic grandeur. My favorite is the Basilica di San Vitale. This uniquely octagonal brick structure was originally built in the 6th century, but, as is typical of many super-old churches, its architecture is an eclectic layering of many different styles that evolved and enveloped each other over time.
Walking up to the church, you’ll feel slowly transported back in time as you hear the tiny tan gravel crunching beneath your shoes. Typical of the period, the modest facade of the basilica gives way to a treasure trove of wonder just inside its large and imposing doors. Upon entering, you’re back in the Byzantine Empire, with more vibrant and glistening mosaic tile staring at you than your lucid brain can take in—you’re in a dream world and never wanting to wake up. Oh, and there are flying buttresses, so yeah. Maaagiiiicaaaaaal ….
January is most definitely one of the best times of year to visit Ravenna. The beautiful, almost ethereal bursts of color that appear to emanate from this city are an amazingly uplifting juxtaposition to the gray dreariness of the winter days that seem to drag on ad infinitum. Of course, no matter when you go, Ravenna is an experience not to be missed—a visceral shock to the soul and the senses alike. Whether you’re seeking spiritual awakening, artistic appreciation or just someplace a little bit off the beaten path, Ravenna is the place for you.
Ciao for now!
Mosaic Art at Mausoleo di Galla Placidia by Officina Grafica Bolognese