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Ravenna

Ravenna, a city of art and culture, is known mainly for its early Christian and Byzantine religious buildings. The city enjoyed a period of rebirth from the end of the 10th century thanks to Ravenna archbishops who sponsored the construction of new religious buildings and the restoration of the great basilicas.

  • AD 850 – 1050

AD 850 – 1050

History

In 803 Charlemagne renewed the Donation of Pepin the Short, who had given Ravenna to the Papal State in 754 to free it from the Longobards. Charlemagne called the area of the ex- Exarchate Romandiola and pledged to protect it. He was in Ravenna three times: in 784, in 800 and in 810. Following his death, the Empire was divided and Pavia became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, but Ravenna nonetheless retained its prestige as a former imperial city. In 892 it was the site of the coronation of the Emperor Lambert of Spoleto by Pope Formosus.

In Ravenna, between 889, when the Exarchate and Pentapolis became part of the Kingdom of Italy, and 951 when Otto I of Saxony took the field for the first time in Italy, archbishops took advantage of struggles between Kings and of the serious decline of the papacy to consolidate their power, even temporal, over the city. Archbishops have attracted the favours of Lambert II of Spoleto and Ravenna became the spiritual capital of the Kingdom of Italy under the rule of Berengar II and Adalbert.

From 962 to 1024 the Empire was ruled by the House of Saxony, first by the three Ottos. Otto I went to Ravenna for the first time in 963 . On that occasion he ordered the commissioning of the imperial palace, which was completed in 967. In the same year, Otto and the Pope John XIII celebrated Easter in Ravenna. From his time on, Ravenna became de facto capital of the Kingdom, and the Ottonians made lengthy stays there. Otto III wanted to take the capital back to Rome, and to this end built a palace on the Palatine hill, but he had to abandon his project and fall back on Ravenna, which became the hub of his activities. Thanks to the concessions of Otto III, Ravenna became a large ecclesiastical seigniory. Gerbert d’Aurillac of France, archbishop of Ravenna and future pope Sylvester II, secured enormous privileges and possessions both from the pope and the emperor and, after Adelaide’s death, all of the empress’s property and rights over the city. The Ottonians imposed foreign archbishops on Ravenna. Another example, besides Gerbert d’Aurillac, is the German Frederick. With the successor of Otto III, Henry II of Bavaria, the Empire’s attention to Ravenna and above all its presence there diminished: the archbishops’ links with the sovereigns also weakened and the nobility seized power over the city, appointing their own archbishop. This was only to be an interlude, however, since in 1013 Henry II marched on Ravenna and re-established imperial power, which would not be challenged again until the beginning of the 12th century.

From the end of the 10th century the city enjoyed a period of renewed importance and rebirth: it grew in population, expanded until coming to include thirty urban regiones, twelve city gates and over sixty churches in the urban area and outskirts Fig. 5, it had workshops and mills and its port, though reduced in size, remained active. The bourgeois class was gaining influence: it demanded that the aristocracy and archbishops break away from dependency on the Empire and develop closer ties with Rome.

Fig. 5: Aerial photo of the old Benedictine Monastery of San Vitale. Credit: Nazario Spadoni

Fig. 5: Aerial photo of the old Benedictine Monastery of San Vitale. Credit: Nazario Spadoni

The archbishops of Ravenna used to be elected with the Emperor’s approval. Thanks to their power, they sponsored the construction of new religious buildings and the restoration of the great basilicas in the urban area. One example has been the Archbishop Onesto (971-983) who granted privileges and benefits to many families of the city of Ravenna in exchange for their participation to the imperial army. The strong power of the bishops has limited the expansion of people’s power until the first half of the twelfth century, when autonomous municipalities began to be established in the area. 9

Archaeology

The most important monuments of the city and its outskirts have been preserved over the centuries and interventions of medieval archaeology in Ravenna have thus been limited. Exceptions are the area of the so-called Theodoric’s Palace Fig. 6 (actually it is the remains of the Church San Salvatore ad Calchi of the 10th century) 14 15, and the monastery complex and Basilica of San Severo in Classe (the Basilica was built in the late 6th century and the monastery certainly still existed in the 10th century) and some other cases which will be mentioned further.

Fig. 6: Floor plan of the so-called Theodoric’s Palace. Credit: P. Bernabini, courtesy of SBAP-RA (MIBAC-Italy)

Fig. 6: Floor plan of the so-called Theodoric’s Palace. Credit: P. Bernabini, courtesy of SBAP-RA (MIBAC-Italy)

Mosaic flooring was accidentally discovered in Ravenna, in the area of via Roma, near Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, toward the middle of the 19th century. Systematic digging campaigns were organized, which brought to light a 5th century palatial complex.

Still visible in part, and the fruit of fairly recent excavations (2001 and thereafter), is the church of Santa Maria ad Farum and annexed monastery, also dating from the 9th century, which incorporated the Mausoleum of Theodoric. This Early medieval monastery was built on the seashore, near to a lighthouse and a small port outside the city walls. The Abbey Church of Santa Maria in Porto Fuori, built after 1069, was destructed in World War II.

Although the attribution of Santa Giustina Church to the early Middle Ages is only hypothetical and unconfirmed, it seems that the church dates back to the 10th century and it has been abandoned by 1750. Santa Giustina in Capite Porticus was brought to light by Monsignor Mario Mazzotti’s digs in the 1970s. The original church, which remains have been preserved and presented inside the modern building (at about 4 m deep), was first built on the 8th century as a one-aisled building with and the apse and in lateral wall niches; traces of vaults date to the 10th century. Beside it stands the beginning of the Porticus, still in use during the Ottonian period.

After a history of successive demolitions and rebuilding (see the list of Heritage Route sites), the basilica of San Severo Fig. 7 was completely destroyed in 1821. All that remained was a stump of the ancient bell tower with a plaque commemorating the ancient basilica and the date of its demolition. A number of theories have been advanced as to where the marble of the church ended up. Some works may have been recognized, and floor mosaics have been found, but much was lost. Findings in the area began in 1881. The first real digging campaign was conducted from 1963 to 1969; digging resumed in 1980 and is still ongoing. 16 17 18 19

Fig. 7: Reconstruction draft of the Basilica of San Severo. Credit: Fondazione RavennAntica

Fig. 7: Reconstruction draft of the Basilica of San Severo. Credit: Fondazione RavennAntica

The base of a tower, no longer visible, which was unearthed during a duly documented dig commissioned by the Banca Popolare of Ravenna (1980) and identified as remains of the former town hall: here, in fact, was the “turris que dicitur curia” mentioned in a document dated 980 preserved in the Ravenna Archiepiscopal Archives. In actual fact the identification is not at all certain, but the dating to the 10th century is plausible.

The cemeteries outside the city walls, it is the case of the one adjacent to the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, built by Galla Placidia, were also used in later periods. In Ravenna, as elsewhere, from the 6th century onwards the practice of urban burials became popular. The graves inside the building were placed in a scattered position, in small groups or articulated like true cemeteries. In this case, cemeteries were located close to the ecclesiastical building. A local peculiarity is the construction of mausoleums to house the remains of important people. 10 11 12 13

Art and Architecture

The remains of the residences of Otto I in Ravenna have never been found, and also their location are uncertain. However, it seems very plausible to consider that there were two imperial palaces. The first residence had to be close to the Basilica of San Severo, in a monastic building adapted to the imperial needs.30 This use was common during the Carolingian period and there are similar solutions of the imperial use in Rome, Verona and Milan. The second residence of Otto I was built from scratch closer to the city, near the harbour of San Lorenzo, in a suburb called Caesarea. Next to this imperial palace stood the Palatine Church of St Paul, built by the will of Adelaide.

Ecclesiastical Buildings in Ravenna have been under important additions and adaptations during the Ottos’s ruling. In the 10th century the local churches were provided with crypts: the basilica Ursiniana (Duomo), the Church of San Francesco, the cruciform Church of Santa Croce, San Giorgio de Porticibus (i.e. under the head office of Cassa di Risparmio bank in Via Garibaldi) and so on.

The churches of Ravenna and near area were also provided with bell-towers31 32: the most characteristic are cylindrical Fig. 9, like the one of Sant ‘Apollinare Nuovo. The bell-towers of the San Giovanni Evangelista and San Francesco churches have a square shape and the bell-tower of SS. Giovanni e Paolo has an intermediate type, having a cylindrical shape at the top and square at the bottom.

Fig. 9: Brick bell tower of the Archiepiscopal Chapel in Ravenna. Credit: Istituto per i beni artistici, culturali e naturali (IBC)

Fig. 9: Brick bell tower of the Archiepiscopal Chapel in Ravenna. Credit: Istituto per i beni artistici, culturali e naturali (IBC)

The first monastic foundations33 34 in Ravenna and Classe date back to the 6th century as stated by the letters of Pope St Gregory the Great to the archbishops of Ravenna Giovanni and Mariniano. The Benedictine monasteries in Ravenna received special protection from the Ottos.

The presence of the Ottos in the monastery of Sant’Apollinare in Classe is also documented. They supported the reforming action of Romualdo of Ravenna (ca. 950 -1027), who moved from Sant ‘Apollinare in Classe to found cloisters and monasteries in other areas. In 1001 the Emperor Otto III performed some penitential exercises in the monastery of Classe where he met Pope Sylvester II (Gerbert d’Aurillac). Fig. 8

Fig. 8: Aerial view of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Classe, Ravenna. Credit: Municipality of Ravenna

Fig. 8: Aerial view of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Classe, Ravenna. Credit: Municipality of Ravenna

Finally, during the 10th and 11th centuries private constructions increased. Historic sources testify that one of the most common was the family chapel (also called monasterium) built annexed to the domus. 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

International connections

The history of Ravenna has always had an international dimension: starting from when it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire, then of the barbarian Ostrogothic Kingdom and, finally, of the Byzantine Empire in Italy. Even after the fall of the Exarchate, Ravenna maintained international pre-eminence, which earned it the attention of Charlemagne, his successors and, in the 10th century, the King of Italy and the Saxon emperors. It was precisely with the Ottonians that Ravenna again took on a prominent role. The Saxon emperors reached Ravenna from Pavia by navigating the Po River. In Ravenna, southwest of the city, Otto I built an imperial palace where he and his successors spent lengthy periods and performed official functions. Up to the 12th century, Ravenna maintained strong ties with the Empire and the privileges granted to the city and its archbishops, who sought to remain independent from the Pope, were always reconfirmed. When the Exarchate and Pentapolis became part of the Kingdom of Italy (889), the archbishops of Ravenna, exploiting the severe crisis of the papacy, maintained firm, independent power over the territory. The city became moral capital of the Kingdom of Italy under Berengar II and Adalbert II of Ivrea.

As they pursued the ideal of Renovatio imperii and sought to consolidate their rule over Italy, the Ottonians considered Ravenna a key city given both its geographic and strategic position and its history. Fig. 10 It represented the Western port linking to the Byzantine East: the Ottonians indeed dreamt, in vain, of reconciliation with the emperor of Constantinople.

Fig. 10: Map: Ancient Rome Flaminia way path in blue colour. Diverticulum via Flaminia nova in violet colour. Credit: Wikipedia

Fig. 10: Map: Ancient Rome Flaminia way path in blue colour. Diverticulum via Flaminia nova in violet colour. Credit: Wikipedia

There are a number of specific connections between Ravenna and some of the Heritage Route sites. The octagonal church of San Vitale inspired several European ecclesiastical foundations, especially through the example of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, where Charlemagne exported the Ravenna’s model for the first time. One of the examples is the rotunda of the St Vithus Cathedral in Prague.

The antique materials – marbles, columns, statues, bronzes, etc., obtained in Rome and in Ravenna by Charlemagne, were not directed to Aachen only. For example, there is a tradition of sources, the so-called Poeta Saxo and Sebastian Münster, according to whom, part of the spolia has been brought to Ingelheim.

Some characters of Ravenna played an important role at an European level. Severus, Bishop of Ravenna in the fourth century and then Saint, was particularly revered in Germany (Mainz, Erfurt); Giovanni of Ravenna in the seventh century, has been responsible for the foundation of the diocese of Spilt and for the reconversion of the Diocletian’s Palace into a church.35

References

9 Storia di Ravenna, Vol. I-V. Venezia, 1990-1996

10 Ibid.

11 Ricci, G., ‘Ravenna spogliata tra medioevo e prima età moderna’, Quaderni storici, XXIV, 2, 1989, pp. 537-561

12 Cirelli, E., Ravenna: archeologia di una città, Firenze, 2008

13 Augenti, A., ‘Ravenna e Classe: archeologia di due città tra la tarda Antichità e l’alto Medioevo’ in Le città italiane tra la tarda antichità e l’alto Medioevo, (Ravenna, 26-28/02/2004), Firenze, 2006

14 Ghirardini, G., ‘Gli scavi del palazzo di Teodorico a Ravenna’, in Accademia dei Lincei, R. (ed.), Monumenti antichi, Roma, 1918

15 Leoni, C., ‘Rinvenimenti archeologici a ridosso del Mausoleo di Teodorico’, in Viaggio nei siti archeologici della provincia di Ravenna, Ravenna, 2003

16 Augenti, A. (ed.), La basilica e il monastero di San Severo a Classe. La storia, gli scavi, Ravenna, 2007

17 Bermond Montanari, G., La chiesa di S. Severo nel territorio di Classe: risultati dei recenti scavi, Bologna, 1968

18 Novara, P., ‘Materiali marmorei tardoantichi dagli scavi del complesso di S. Severo in Classe’, Ravenna. Studi e Ricerche, III, Ravenna, 1996, pp. 29-74

19 Augenti, A. and Bertelli, C. (eds), Santi banchieri re. Ravenna e Classe nel VI secolo, San Severo il tempio ritrovato (Ravenna, 04/03-05/11/2006), Milano, 2006

20 Lawrence, M., The sarcophagi of Ravenna, Rome, 1970

21 Storia di Ravenna, Vol. I-V, Venezia, 1990-1996

22 Rizzardi, C., ‘Rinnovamento architettonico a Ravenna durante l’impero degli Ottoni: problemi e aspetti’, in XXXVII corso di cultura sull’arte ravennate e bizantina, (Ravenna, 30/03 – 4/04/1990), Ravenna, 1990, pp. 393-415

23 Augenti, A., ‘Ravenna e Classe: archeologia di due città tra la tarda Antichità e l’alto Medioevo’, in Le città italiane tra la tarda antichità e l’alto Medioevo, (Ravenna, 26-28/02/2004), Firenze, 2006

24 Bovini, G., Guida del museo nazionale di Ravenna, Ravenna, 1951

25 Martini, L., Cinquanta capolavori nel Museo Nazionale di Ravenna, Introduzione di Anna Maria Iannucci, Ravenna, 1998

26 Fabbri, A., Museo d’arte della città di Ravenna, Ravenna, 2011

27 Martini, L. and Rizzardi, C., Avori bizantini e medievali nel Museo nazionale di Ravenna, Ravenna, 1990

28 Rizzardi, C., ‘Gli avori del Museo Nazionale di Ravenna: due formelle di età carolingia’, Felix Ravenna, part no.: III, Issue: 1/2/1984 – 1/2/1985, Ravenna, 1985, pp. 405-418

29 Bertelli, C. and Brogiolo, G.P. (eds), Il futuro dei Longobardi. L’Italia e la costruzione dell’Europa di Carlo Magno, (Brescia, 18/06/2000-10/12/2000), Milano, 2000, pp. 330-341

30 Novara, P., ‘Note sul “palazzo degli Ottoni” in Ravenna e sulla cappella di San Paolo fuori Porta San Lorenzo‘, in Civiltà padana: archeologia e storia del territorio, Vol. 3, Modena, 1990, pp. 79-92

31 Novara, P., ‘Le torri scomparse’, in Mura, porte e torri di Ravenna, Ravenna, 2000

32 Battistini, G., Bissi, L. and Rocchi, L., Campanili di Ravenna: storia e restauri, Ravenna, 2008

33 Spinelli, G. (ed.), Monasteri benedettini in Emilia Romagna, Milano, 1980

34 Novara, P.,“Ad religionis claustrum construendum” Monasteri nel medioevo ravennate: storia e archeologia, Ravenna, 2003

35 Storia di Ravenna, Vol. I-V, Venezia, 1990-1996

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