Once we're allowed to travel to Europe again, you might be looking to escape the places that attract the largest crowds. Hand Crafted Travel can help you find destinations that still feature world class sights, but that have fewer people because they're a bit off the beaten path. One example is the town of Ravenna, and nearby Classe.
The church of Sant'Apollinare in Classe is located about three miles south of central Ravenna, in the sleepy village of Classe. At first glance the town is utterly uninteresting, a few dozen modern apartment buildings and houses dominated by the Classe train station (a stop on the local Ravenna-Rimini line).
So why are some of the best mosaics in Western Europe here? For more than 500 years the town was home base for the Roman navy, with the infrastructure to build and arm more than 250 ships, as well as house and feed all of those sailors. It was also one of the most important commercial ports in northern Italy, trading expensive goods with the eastern portion of the Empire.
There's nothing but flat farm land surrounding us now, but all of those crops are planted on top of fertile alluvial soil, dropped by the Po River as it lost momentum and spread out into the Adriatic. The coastline is almost five miles east of us now, and the Roman fleet is long gone.
From cemeteries nearby we know that a large Christian community had developed here by the late 2nd century. The church itself was built in 549 AD, and dedicated to Saint Apollinaris, the first bishop of Ravenna.
The mosaics in the apse are some of the oldest in the church, dating from the 6th century. A large blue disc with stars forms the backdrop for a jeweled cross, with an image of the face of Christ at the intersection of the arms of the cross. Below are the words salvus mundi, the world's salvation.
Above the blue disc an expanse of gold and white represents heaven. A hand reaches through the clouds, the Hand of God, flanked by the figures of Moses and Elijah. Below the disc three lambs, representing three of Christ's apostles, look upward. This recalls the transfiguration of Jesus described in three of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus." (Matthew 17:1-8)
The lower part of the mosaic shows a green valley, studded with rocks, trees, and birds, perhaps a view of the land around us here in Classe. At the center is the figure of Saint Apollinaris surrounded by the faithful, represented by twelve lambs, a clear reference to the twelve tribes of Israel.
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