Timeline Travel – Late Antique and Byzantine Architecture in Ravenna – Introduction

Timeline Travel – Late Antique and Byzantine Architecture in Ravenna – Introduction


Late Antique and Byzantine Architecture in
Ravenna Hi! Welcome to Timeline Travel e-learning platform! In this lecture series, we will travel back
in time to some important cities in order to discover the architectural history of several
prominent civilizations. In other words, the buildings of certain historic
cities will be our guide and will narrate their history through the language of architecture. Changes in building styles and changes in
the patronage or location of structures within a city will give us lots of insights into
a city’s or a country’s architectural past. In this course, we will visit Late Antique
and Byzantine Ravenna with the help of its buildings. Founded as small fortified town during the
Augustan age, Ravenna became one of the most important cities of the late Roman Empire,
together with Constantinople and Rome itself. At the beginning of the 5th century, the city
became the capital of the Western Roman Empire and for centuries afterwards it remained one
of the most important artistic centres of the Mediterranean area, especially as far
as religious architecture is concerned. One of the most original features of Late
Antique and Byzantine Ravenna architecture lies in the fact that it successfully merged
elements originating from other cultures and cities — Rome, Milan, Constantinople and
Thessaloniki — thereby creating an extraordinary synthesis between East and West. Thus, the architecture of Ravenna represented
one of the most important models for European architecture in Late Antiquity and in the
Middle Ages. The first lecture of the course on “Late
Antique and Byzantine Architecture in Ravenna” is composed of two parts. In the first part, we will study the typological
features of the most important buildings in Ravenna from the 5th to 8th centuries AD and
in the second part we will study materials and construction methods, as well as the importance
of mosaics in the decorations which characterized Ravenna’s architecture in Late Antique and
Byzantine period. Then, in the second lecture, we will start
our journey through Ravenna with the architecture of the period when the city became an imperial
seat of the Western Roman Empire, from the reign of Honorius to that of Odoacer (402-493). When Emperor Theodosius died in 395 AD, the
Roman Empire was divided into two halves, ruled by the two sons of the emperor: Arcadius
ruled the Eastern part, which had Constantinople as its capital city; and Honorius the Western
part, which had Milan as its capital. In 402, due to the increasing pressures of
Germanic tribes and the unstable political situation, Honorius decided to transfer the
capital from Milan to Ravenna, which rapidly expanded as a result, becoming one of the
leading centres for the history of art and architecture of Late Antiquity. Christianity spread in Ravenna very early:
some sources tell us that the Church of Ravenna was founded by Apollinaris, a disciple of
the apostle Peter. The bishops of Ravenna – who would take
on a political as well as a spiritual role– oversaw the building of many sacred complexes
that were among the most important of the Italian peninsula given both their prestige
and their dimensions. The architecture merged elements from different
artistic traditions, drawing inspiration both from the Eastern architecture of Constantinople
and from the building tradition of the Roman/Western world. This original synthesis can be found in the
architecture of buildings erected under the reign of Galla Placidia (425-450), sister
of the Emperor Honorius and regent on behalf of her son Valentinan III, who became heir
to the Western Roman Empire when he was only six. The architectural activity promoted by Galla
Placidia, who wanted to transform Ravenna into a real imperial court, manifested itself
in particular in new religious buildings. The Church of San Giovanni Evangelista (Saint
John the Evangelist) and the complex of Santa Croce with the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
are among the most important examples. After the death of the Empress in 450, one
of the main promoters of building activity in Ravenna was the bishop Neon (451-473). He transformed and improved existing buildings
such as the Baptistery of the Basilica Ursiana, which for this reason changed its name in
Neonian Baptistery. The third lecture will be focused on the period
between Theoderic’s kingdom (494-526) and the reign of Justinian (526-565). Theoderic, King of the Goths, arrived in Ravenna
in 493 and ruled it for thirty-three years. He launched a major building and artistic
renovation plan for the city – by then one of the biggest and richest of Late Antiquity
and the Early Middle Ages in Europe. Theoderic was of Arian faith, like his people,
and he commissioned the construction of several buildings devoted to this cult, which was
different from Orthodox Christianity: the most important ones were the Arian Cathedral
(currently the Basilica of Spirito Santo) with a Baptistery, and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare
Nuovo, close to Theoderic’s Palace. Both of these buildings merged architectural
elements from Constantinople with local architectural traditions. However, this fine balance between the two
worlds is not a feature shared by the most famous building of the period, the Mausoleum
of Theoderic, which is very different from the other buildings in Ravenna in terms of
both forms and building techniques. With the beginning of the age of Justinian
(527-565), the architectural and artistic trend of Ravenna reached its peak. Religion played a central role in Justinian’s
project to renew the Roman Empire: one of his objectives was to bring back the Orthodox
cult and he launched a broad plan for the renovation of Ravenna’s religious buildings
with the aim of converting them from the Arian to the Orthodox cult. The most important example of the architecture
of this period is the basilica of San Vitale, in which architectural elements from both
Constantinople and Rome are blended together. In these buildings, the spatial and decorative
elements, above all the mosaics, epitomize the features of Byzantine architecture. Finally, in the fourth lecture, we will analyze
the features of Late Byzantine architecture during the so-called Exarchate of Italy (end
of the 6th century – mid-8th century AD), a province of the Byzantine Empire, and their
relationship with the future experience of medieval architecture: the legacy of Byzantine
architecture became the basis for the architectural developments of the centuries to come. You may now review the course content in greater
detail and find out about the buildings that will be the focus of each lecture either by
viewing the course outline below or downloading the course syllabus. Do not hesitate to use the Timeline Travel
tool whenever you need it! Now, get ready and enjoy your Timeline Travel! timelinetravel.net

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