9 May 2009


Cycling via the city of Ravenna meant a big detour for me and my loaded compagnion. We are on our way from the Alps to Napoli, which is located half way down the "boot's leg" on the west cost of Italy. But Ravenna is east, a bit more than a hundred kilometers south of Venice. What made me cycle all this extra detour was that I had read in some book (probably Mark Twain: The Innocents Abroad) that the windows of some of the buildings here are made of alabaster - stone which is manufactured so thinly that the light shines through it!

Ravenna itself is a medium sized city with about 150.000 inhabitants. Its founding dates back to the times B.C. and Ravenna has lots of history with one government overthrowing the other and popes and then kaisers so on. I spare you the details - I admit I don't understand all of them well enough. I did understand though that in earlier times it had been directly on the waterfront of the Adrian sea. But now the land rose (or the water fell) and it is about 9 kilometers to the salty waters of the Adria.

So - back to the windows made of stone. Every second building here is a church and of those every second is UNESCO world heritage. The reason: the people, especially the artists of Ravenna had developed what Adobe Photoshop would do again in modern times - pixelization. Thousands of tiny little dots of various colours assembled to a big picture - mosaics!
From the outside many a building looks tame with its simple red brick wall and low angled roof. But the moment you step inside a new universe unveils! It is marble walls and mosaic pictures all over. Most scenes are biblical - Jesus being baptised, three kings, Jesus and a flock of lambs, Mary between angels... and even without a strong religious background the sight is simply breathtaking! To imagine how meniculous and passionate the workers must have been colouring, assembling and mounting all the tiles. Some pictures have large portions of gold plated tiles that glitter in the sunlight. Really impressive!

And then, in a place called "Mausoleum di Galla Placida" where it is believed that an ancient female kaiser is buried I find what I came for to begin with: windows made of stone. So thin that the light shines through it. Manifacured thousands of years ago, at a time when you were thrown into the same deep dungeons with people who claimed that earth was a sphere if you would have mentionned the names of Black&Decker, Hilti and Makita... Incredible!

Another thing I love about Ravenna is the fact that there are bicycles everywhere!!! As a tourist you even get one for free from the tourist information or youth hostel staff. The bright yellow bikes stand around and wait for you to go ahead and ride them through town from Mausoleum to cafe, from Duomo to Gelateria, from the train station to your hostel and back. Lots of locals seem to have understood that parking a car or a scooter is far too much of a hassle compared to simply pedalling the couple of hundred meters. And some even get married on a bicycle (see below). Ravenna - simply great. Worth every detour!

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