The sun has now set and it is time for me to leave this interesting city. On my way back to the railway station, I decide to make a little detour north to take a look at another monument with octagonal shape, highlighted in color on the touristic map I was given but not named. The spot in question turns out to be one of particular historical and cultural importance, and it’s a shame it wasn’t adequately mentioned on the ticket or the map.
On a little square, hidden behind some bland modern buildings on Via Armando Diaz, stands the Basilica dello Spirito Santo (Basilica of the Holy Spirit). It was built by Theodoric at the end of the 5th Century to serve as the new cathedral, after he had consolidated his dominion and Arianism had become the official religion of the Court, and consecrated by Arian bishops in the early 6th century AD. It was later converted to the Orthodox faith around 560. Today, the Basilica does not significantly differ from its original appearance, but has sunken 2.3 meters into the ground. A 5th century porch with five big arches on the front and one on the shorter northern side dominates the façade. The church has been given to a community of Orthodox monks that open it exclusively on Sunday for religious services, but visits are always prohibited:
The southern side of the square is delimited by the Wall of Droctulf. In this spot stood once the Arian Episcopal Palace, built by Theodoric between 493 and 526, and modified after the Byzantine conquest of Ravenna in 540; this wall, whose current appearance is the result of a long series of alterations, could represent its meager remains. Tradition has it that in the late 6th century, part of the Arian Episcopal Palace had become the home of the Germanic warrior Droctulf (Italianized as Drogdone), a character on the edge between history and legend, who became meritorious when he chose to fight against his own people in defense of Ravenna. It is from this “barbarian convert” that the wall took its name:
In the 11th century, the wall delimited the cloisters of the monastery belonging to the Church of the Holy Spirit, which was suppressed then converted into a hotel in the 19th century. The area was bombed in 1944, and the surviving wall was partly demolished to make room for the rear entrance of the new modern buildings built on Via Diaz.
The last structure on the square is yet another one of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Arian Baptistery. It was built in the same period (early 6th century) as the church of the Holy Spirit, and like it, lies today 2.3 meters lower than its original level. Modeled after the Baptistery of Neon, it is octagonal in shape and has four small external apses. While nothing remains of the various stuccos and decorations which certainly covered the internal walls, the cupola is still adorned with mosaics depicting the procession of the 12 Apostles and the Baptism of Christ, who is immersed in water to the hips. Although it shows the same iconographical structure as the Baptistery of Neon, the mosaics of the Arian Baptistery are an evidence of the religious beliefs of Theodoric's court, based on Christ as both an earthly and divine figure: while in the Neonian Baptistery the 12 Apostles hail the image of Christ on the central medallion as God’s son, here they pay homage to a big throne decorated with gems and topped by a cross, from the arms of which hangs a purple cloth, symbol of Jesus’ corporeity and human suffering. Unfortunately the Baptistery had already closed when I arrived there, and I’m angered that I was oblivious to its existence until that last moment:
Returning to the station, I catch one last glimpse of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, the first structure I visited in Ravenna. I’ll hopefully return one day, and explore in even more detail this city’s historical and artistic treasures!
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