From Tuscan Arezzo to Byzantine Ravenna to the University town of Padua
Friday 17th July
My rather mythological view of Tuscany has been broadened by climbing up through the forests of Montepulciano, the mountains north of Sanselpolcro and the more developed hill top towns like Cortona. We came to love wandering through Arezzo’s hard working narrow streets, churches and shops and knew that by travelling north we would be re-entering the more hard nosed twenty first century go go world of northern Italy.
Following the eastern track north we came to two ancient Byzantine churches in Ravenna both named after C2nd missionary teacher Appolonius. The first in the quiet suburb of Classe is a C5th survivor built about the same time as the much loved San Vitale. This church has had many additions including an C8th crypt which has resulted in the sanctuary being lifted substantially and now reached by twelve broad stairs making its appearance almost like a stage. The mosaic ceiling is notable for its large collection of sheep, the single hand of God and the significant Old Testament influence represented by Moses and Elijah. The wooden roof is supported by two lines of corinthian columns and apart from a tomb of Appolonius in the centre and a series of sarcophagi the church looks quite empty compared with the intensity of Baroque Roman churches. There is still clearly a worshipping community in this church which was really encouraging.
In Ravenna itself is another probably C6th church of St Appolonius built after the city walls of Ravenna had been reduced leaving Classe out in the cold. This church, again with impressive mosaics, felt much more like a museum than a worshipping community. It was built in the period of Arian dominance in Ravenna. The style was very similar to the original church in Classe including the tower.
We had a good run into Padua and found our hotel in the heart of town easily. Finding the Avis office was far less simple and although we were close all afternoon with all the one way streets it took quite a protracted effort (would you believe 3 hours) to find the office and drop off the car. We are looking forward to exploring this ancient university town of Padua and the surrounding cities.