2018-08-08 / Front Page

In The Footsteps Of Byzantium: Basilica Of St. Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

By Catherine Tsounis

Mosaic floor, Basilica of St. Vitale. 
Photos Despina Siolas Md./Ph.DMosaic floor, Basilica of St. Vitale. Photos Despina Siolas Md./Ph.DThe Symbol of Byzantine Art and Mosaics is the Basilica of St. Vitale, in Ravenna, Northern Italy. It is a city of civilization that goes back millenniums (thousands of years), mentioned by Ancient Greek historians. Public Television’s series “Ancient Roads from Christ to Constantine” described Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). It showed Ravenna’s Byzantine Churches to explain  how St. Sophia Cathedral, looked during th3e reign of Eastern Roman Byzantine Emperor Justinian looked. The Byzantine Empire’s monuments have been destroyed from its base by war and conquest in North Africa, the Middle East and Western Anatolia.

It was time to visit Ravenna. We hired a private guide, Marta Chiero, an outstanding scholar General view of the Presbitery, Basilica of St. Vitale.General view of the Presbitery, Basilica of St. Vitale.to show us  Ravenna’s Byzantine monuments, beginning with the Basilica of St. Vitale “In 535 A.D., the Eastern Roman (Byzantine)  Emperor Justinian began the military reconquest of Italy,” she explained. “In 540 A.D., General Belisarius reconquered Ravenna from the Visigoths. Ravenna has eight world heritage sites.”

The Basilica of St. Vitale is considered a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. It is especially noted for the colorful mosaics of Christian iconography that decorate the interior walls and ceilings.2

Basilica of St. Vitale.
 Basilica of St. Vitale. The church has an octagonal plan. The building combines Roman elements: the dome, shape of doorways, and stepped towers; with Byzantine elements: polygonal apse, capitals, narrow bricks, and an early example of flying buttresses. The church is of extreme importance in Byzantine art, as it is the only major church from the period of the Emperor Justinian I to survive virtually intact to the present day. Furthermore, it is thought to reflect the design of the Byzantine Imperial Palace Audience Chamber, of which nothing at all survives.3 This fact was not explained in the Ravenna guide book.

Landscape of the Presbitery, Basilica of St. Vitale.Landscape of the Presbitery, Basilica of St. Vitale.I discovered that it is a replica of Constantinople’s Imperial Palace Audience Chamber on my internet research back home. The Chrysotriklinos (Imperial Palace Audience Chamber) was the main reception and ceremonial hall of the Great Palace of Constantinople from its construction, in the late 6th century, until the 10th century. Its appearance is known only through literary descriptions, chiefly the 10th-century De Ceremoniis, a collection of imperial ceremonies, but, as the chief symbol of imperial power, it inspired the construction of Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel in Aachen.3  Today , he/she must search sources online and not count on books that are overlooking facts concerning the Byzantine origin.

Julius Argentarius, a banker and architect, of whom very little is known, except that he also Christ with 12 Apostles of St. Gervase and St. Protasio, Presbitery, Basilica of St. Vitale.Christ with 12 Apostles of St. Gervase and St. Protasio, Presbitery, Basilica of St. Vitale.sponsored the construction of the Basilica of Saint'Apollinare in Classe at around the same time. In ancient times rich people financed religious buildings regulated by imperial degree and regulations.4 It has been suggested that Julian originated in the eastern part of the Byzantine Empire, where there was a long-standing tradition of public benefactions. All these mosaics are executed in the Hellenistic-Roman tradition: lively and imaginative, with rich colors and a certain perspective, and with a vivid depiction of the landscape, plants and birds

Old testament scene, Presbitery, Basilica of St. Vitale.Old testament scene, Presbitery, Basilica of St. Vitale.The mosaics explain scenes on the Old Testament, the Four Evangelists, under their symbols (angel, lion, ox and eagle), and dressed in white, the Justinian and Theodora panels. The Basilica of St. Vitale is extraordinary.
All photos by Despina Siolas, MD/PhD
1.     https://shop.pbs.org/ancient-roads-from-christ-to-constantine-dvd/produc...
2.     https://www.britannica.com/place/Church-of-San-Vitale
3.     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysotriklinos
4.     Gabici, Franco. RAVENNA, Salbaroli publishers; Ravenna, 2012. P. 26.

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