Ravenna Revisited: Basilica of San Vitale

The monuments of Ravenna propel the visitor into the strange domain of cultural appropriation where one man’s glorious restoration is another’s heinous desecration.

Where the re-branding veneer of fake restorations and obfuscating modifications are deemed authentic because they “have their own intrinsic historical value”.

The Church of San Vitale

It is decorated with baroque frescoes executed in 1778-82, and in stark contrast to the architectonic purity of the structure.

The authenticity of the eight properties that make up this nomination is high.
All have undergone various modifications in the centuries since they were originally built, but these modifications have their own intrinsic historical value and as such do not affect the authenticity adversely.

Advisory Body Evaluation (ICOMOS) – 1996
Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna – UNESCO World Heritage Centre


Where dates are malleable.

The church was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 526, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths and completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 547 preceding the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna.


The most interesting building in Ravenna, however, from many points of view, is the church of San Vitale, built 539-547, its plan and design being based on the church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus at Constantinople.

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica – Vol 2 – Architecture

Where narratives are flexible.

Far more interesting than this is the great church of St. Vitale, the most complicated, and at the same time, perhaps, the most beautiful of the circular churches of that age.

In design it is nearly identical with the Minerva Medica at Rome, except that this is an octagon instead of a decagon, and that it is wholly enclosed by an octagonal wall, whereas the Roman example has besides two curvilinear wings, enclosing its sides.

The illustrated handbook of architecture – Vol 1 – James Fergusson – 1855


The erroneously named Temple of Minerva Medica is, in fact, a ruined nymphaeum of Imperial Rome, lying between the via Labicana and Aurelian Walls and just inside the line of the Anio Vetus


Where the venerable art of photo-shopping mosaics was developed.

And where the Vedic heritage still lingers on.

Of especial interest are the columns and capitals of the triforia, which are tall and slim, probably imported from the east.

The impost capitals are in the form of lotus leaves, creating an elegant transition from the circular section of the columns to the rectangular vaulting.

The closest parallels for these are to be found in Constantinople.

Advisory Body Evaluation (ICOMOS) – 1996
Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna – UNESCO World Heritage Centre


Gallery | This entry was posted in Arabian Horizon, Heinsohn Horizon, History, Ravenna Revisited, Round Towers. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ravenna Revisited: Basilica of San Vitale

  1. Pingback: Ravenna Revisited: The Deja Vu Dodo | MalagaBay

  2. Pingback: Roman Chronology: Credibility Gap | MalagaBay

  3. Pingback: Ravenna Revealed: Curious Clues | MalagaBay

  4. Pingback: Aachen Cathedral | MalagaBay

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