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The monuments and memorails to this rich past form Ravenna's vast artistic heritage, in which mosaics hold pride of place.
These decorations, executed in "smalti" and marble, which artists in Ravenna still produce using the same techniques, are composed of small pieces of stone cut individually to fit the underlying design.
Whether they celebrate Imperial glory, as in the side panels of the apse at S. Vitale (6th. C.), or whether they celebrate the triumph of Christianity, as in Galla Placidia (5th C.), the mosaics offer a unique testament to those centuries. The light plays and refracts on a profusion of gold so characteristic of Oriental taste, enhancing the immutable beauty of the colours, the movement of the figures and the lightness of the details.
Classical Greek and Roman art is interwoven with the Gospel's message: from the Church of St. John the Evangelist (5th C.), erected as a votive offering by Galla Placidia, to the Neonian Baptistry (5th C.); from Galla Placidia's mausoleum (5th C.) to the monuments of Theodoric's age, suspended between orthodoxy and Arianism. In fact the Arian Baptistry (5th-6th C.) and the Church of the Holy Spirit, erected in the same period and subsequently altered, are among the few extant buildings dedicated to the Arian cult. The church of S. Apollinare Nuovo (6th C.), the building known as Theodoric's palace and his Mausoleum (6th C.) complete the extraordinary series of Romanbarbarian monuments and mark the beginnings of the Byzantine age. To this period belong the large churches of S. Vitale (6th C.) and S. Apollinare in Classe (6th C.), whose magnificent mosaics would alone be well worth a visit.
Other important memorials to an illustrious past are housed in Ravenna's two extensive museums: the National Museum in the grounds of S. Vitale and the Archiepiscopal Museum next to the Cathedral. The Archiepiscopal Museum houses Maximian's ivory chair (6th C.) with its beautifully tooled inlays, apparently a gift from the Emperor Justinian.
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