My life has been pretty hectic lately between working and living the Dolce Vita in Bologna so this post has been a work in process for a while now. At last here is the latest update on my travels- I hope you like it 🙂
A few weeks ago I went on an organised trip to Ravenna with a group called ESN (Erasmus Student Network) which is one of the three Erasmus organisations in Bologna. All of these groups offer trips, parties and discounts on drinks if you buy their card and this means you can mingle with the Erasmus community and make some international friends in the process!
After only an hour long bus journey from Bologna, we arrived in Ravenna around lunchtime and straight away I met some really interesting and friendly people. Ghuna (Indian), Rosita (Spanish), Alix (Scottish), Alessandro (Italian) and I formed the perfect group of multicultural misfits and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city together whilst having a bit of craic (“fun” in Irish slang)
Our guided tour started off in front of a normal looking secondary school called the Liceo Classico Dante Alghieri but it was fascinating to discover that it was actually founded by Benito Mussolini. An aerial view of the building also shows that the building forms the letters B and M which meant that when planes passed by they knew Ravenna was a fascist city. (either that or it was somewhere to get a great bargain)
Just a normal school…
After this we went to the church of San Giovanni Evangelista which is one of the oldest churches in Europe, having been commissioned by the Empress Galla Placida in 424 AD. Much of the basilica was destroyed by the Americans in 1944 during WW2 when it was struck by a bomb originally intended for the train station. However, many original elements still remain such as the lovely mosaics with simple olive tree and bird designs.
The next church we visited was the basilica of Sant Apollinare Nuovo. Like most of the churches and basilicas in Ravenna it wasn’t much to look at from the outside but the interior was beautiful with lots more colourful mosaics and roman style columns. It was outside this church that I randomly bumped into two friends from Exeter uni who are studying at Forli and had decided to do a bit of sightseeing. We briefly discussed meeting up but I forget to give them my mobile number or anything so it was indeed a freak encounter and a lovely surprise.
After having been reminded of the chance and fleeting nature of life, I was brought face to face with death, or more specifically Dante’s tomb. The master himself was exiled from Florence in 1302 and later died of Malaria in Ravenna in 1321. Florence later came to regret exiling Dante and subsequently built a grander tomb than the one in Ravenna (santa croce) for Dante in 1829 but it remains empty as the citizens of Ravenna took great pains to keep Dante’s bones and once even hid them inside the walls of the monastery. Nevertheless the little oil lamp in the tomb burns with oil from Tuscany which is provided by the Municipality of Florence each year on the 2nd Sunday of September in order to celebrate the anniversary of the poet’s death.
A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark
By this time an inferno of hunger was gripping us and we had some free time to get lunch so I opted for a piadina which is a delicacy of the Emilia-Romagna region (however the piadine differ in both the Emilia and Romagna parts respectively). The best way to describe it would be to say that it is a doughier pitta bread which is then toasted and stuffed with a filling of your choice. I was reccommended a spinach and gorgonzola one as the best vegetarian option and it was absolutely delicious. At this point our little group also had the opportunity to chat a bit more and revel in contagious laughter whilst we ate our lunch on the steps of Piazza San Francesco.
After lunch we headed straight to the church in front of us (Basilica di San Francesco) but we had to look round it quickly because a wedding was about to start and the well suited members of the congregation were eyeing us suspiciously. We had just enough time however to see the crypt which dates back to the 10th century and looks like a little swimming pool since it is below sea level thus a bit of water always seeps in (accompanied also by a few fish).
Returning to Piazza San Francesco we were shown the house were Lord Byron lived and were told an interesting story about a romance he had with Countess Teresa of Ravenna. My favourite part of this tale was that in order to express their love for each other they exchanged letters and locks of hair (including pubic hair) and these momentos are all archived in the Classense library opposite Byron’s former residence. Love never dies…even if things do get a bit hairy.
Moving on we visited the Basilica of San Vitale which was absolutely breathtaking. From the outside it looks so plain but as soon as we stepped inside there was an intake of breath en masse. For me the feeling of being in the cathedral was reminiscent of how I felt when I visited The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The frescoes, the ethereal atmosphere, the architecture, the artwork, everything contributed to a complete sensory overload. The only downside of being on an organised trip was that we had to move on quite quickly but if I had been there by myself I definitely would have stayed at least an hour.
The last element of our guided tour was the Mausoleum of Galla Placida (just opposite the cathedral) and here we saw the most beautiful mosaics yet. They were all so vibrant and colourful with really unusual designs (ducks with dog faces for example). Galla Placida (sister of the Roman emperor Honorius) built this mausoleum to serve as her final resting place and it was originally attached to the church of Santa Croce. In end however she was buried in Rome in 450 AD so the tomb always just served as a pretty monument and a source of inspiration – For example the jazz artist Cole Porter wrote the song Night and day after his visit to here, having been captivated by the starry sky of the tomb.
Now…after having had our fill of culture and history it was time to party; Erasmus style. So we got back on the bus and made our way to the beach where it still wasn’t too cold, the sea was clam and the beach bar was at our disposal. We had a really fun night with beers, dancing, and I even had a midnight swim in the sea with some of the others. I was reminded how hard Spanish people like to party and the same Enrique Iglesias songs which I have heard a million times since my arrival in Bologna, fuelled the fiesta. As the evening progressed our little group of multicultural misfits also grew closer and sort of created an unspoken pact that we would stay in touch and meet up again to have more craic in Bologna. (which we have done)
So there you have it; an extremely comprehensive account of my trip to Ravenna (I’ve never been good at summarising and I salute you if you are still reading this!). I am sure I will do a lot more traveling while I’m here in Bologna so you can look forward to more posts and more accounts of my weird and wonderful experiences.