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It's maybe the most beautiful.
The most majestic, original, colorful, oriental, famous, enchanting church of Ravenna. There is no city tour that does not include the Basilica of San Vitale, because even those travellers who don't like visiting churches will be enchanted by its beauty.
Upon entering you will be astonished and bewildered: where is the apse?
There are no classic long aisles, no truss or panelled ceiling, in its place an octagonal plan which recalls the oriental architecture of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, topped by a painted central dome.
The beautiful columns with their capitals decorated like a lace push up the volumes, and your gaze in search of a focal point will finally capture the sparkle of the tiles that adorn the apse.
The refinement of its mosaics makes of San Vitale one of the most important monuments of Early Christian art in Italy, a magical blend of Eastern and Western elements. Apse and presbytery are richly decorated with scenes from the Old Testament and representations of the court of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, who still is a popular figure in Ravenna.
The apse is dominated by gold, which surrounds Christ sitting on the globe. On his side the archangels Michael and Gabriel, who hands San Vitale the crown of glory elevating him as defender of the Catholic Church.
On the opposite side the bishop Ecclesio hands the Basilica di San Vitale to Christ.
The apse also includes two magnificent imperial processions in which Justinian and Theodora are represented with a halo that gives them a semi-divine connotation.
These are two extremely famous figures in Ravenna; the name of Theodora recurs often in the city, in the bars, souvenir shops, in the creations of Coccami & Miranda, and even in a sweet - cake Theodora - dedicated to her.
A few lucky people were able to see a tribute to these two historical figures by Invader, the famous French street artist. His work, applied on the wall of a private building near the basilic, was then removed and now what remains is nothing more than some traces.
In the presbytery, the lower part is occupied by scenes from the Old Testament: the sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedek on one side; the Hospitality of Abraham to the three angels and the Sacrifice of Isaac on the other. In these scenes the gold is replaced by landscapes rich in natural elements dominated by green and blue.
Inside the vault of the presbytery decorated with stylized flowers, birds and fruits, four angels hold a crown with the Agnus Dei (a theme present also in the Cappella Arcivescovile).
The high dome and niches are decorated with frescoes from 1780.
Moving inside the basilica you gather a new glimpse at every step. The different volumes, the two-order arches, the columns that soar helped by pier caps, the light coming from different directions that creates colour effects and a surreal sparkling, all that contributes to lighten the structure, make it soar and become almost ethereal.
Also the floor of San Vitale is decorated with beautiful mosaics undulated by ground movements (subsidence is a typical phenomenon of Ravenna territhere is a labyrinth, a symbol of sin and a path to purification.
The exit of the church overlooks a small garden where, besides some ancient stone sarcophagus, there is a majestic ancient sycamore (in the list of monumental trees of Ravenna province) and above all one of the treasures of Ravenna, the Mausoleum of Galla Placida, where a visit is a must.
How to get there
On foot: 20 minutes form the railway station
By bus: the basilic can be reached with bus line n. 1, closest stop Piazza Baracca
By car: follow the signs centro/San Vitale. The closest parking lots are in Piazza Baracca and Largo Giustiniano.