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Ravenna The Capital

The artistic and political history of Ravenna saw a period of renewed splendour at the beginning of the V Century a.D. (402-403 a.D.), when Honorius, who had been forced to abandon Milan by the Visigoth invasion, chose Ravenna as the new capital of the Western Roman Empire.

The city got the splendid sumptuous appearance of an imperial residence. Magnificent civil and religious buildings covered with mosaics were built, such as the great Basilica Ursiana and the adjoining Neonian Baptistery, the Church of Santa Croce and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista and the church dedicated to the Apostles, now known as San Francesco. Finally, the city walls undertook a further expansion.

The events of the Western Roman Empire concluded with the entry into Ravenna of Odoacer, who was the first Barbarian to acquire the title of "king" in Italy in 476 a.D. at the death of Paulus, uncle of Romulus Augustulus. The reign of Odoacer was not meant to last for long, and towards the last decade of the V Century Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, reached the area of the city. After a siege of three years, in 493 a.D. Theodoric forced Odoacer to negotiate: even though he was promised his life, after ten days he was accused of plotting and was killed in the Laureto Palace.

Theodoric, first with the title of Dominus and then Rex, was a wise and enlightened sovereign. He gave boost to building activities, undertook great reclaim works and restored the Trajan aqueduct; some fistulae plumbee (pipes for transporting water) found in 1938 bear the following inscription in relief: D(omi)n(us) Rex Theodoricus civitati reddidit.

The buildings constructed in this period include Theodoric's residence, the Palatium, whose external appearance is depicted on the right side wall in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.

Theodoric was Arian like his people and for this reason he had places for Arian worship built, such as the Anastasis Gothorum, now the Basilica of the Holy Spirit - which was used as a Cathedral -, the nearby Arian Baptistery, the stupendous Basilica dedicated to the Saviour and now known as Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.

In 540 Belisarius, Justinian's general, entered Ravenna and so the city passed into Byzantine control and was made prefecture of Italy in 554 a.D. Shortly after, Justinian put in place his famous edict which transferred all Arian property to the Catholics: the Baptistery was transformed into the Church of Santa Maria and the church of the Saviour was dedicated to Bishop San Martino, who had fought against heresy. The Churches of San Vitale (begun under the Goths but finished under the Byzantines) and Sant'Apollinare in Classe are from this period.

Edited by the editorial team

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Last modified date: 11/04/2017


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