The basilica of St Vitale is the best-known monument in Ravenna. Visitors are amazed by its architecture and mosaics. Some of the most iconic survive here.
Today the mosaics are undoubtedly what most marvel, and for that reason it is hard to imagine how unimpressed travelers of the XVII and XVIII centuries were at times. Most striking were the oriental marbles, sarcophagi and inscriptions, and XVI paintings.
This attitude was due to the stylistic understanding of the time, and certainly the poor state of preservation of many of them must also have had a bearing.
It was not until the late XVIII century that there was a renewed interest in the Ravenna mosaics. Emblematic was what the French writer Louise Colet, companion of the better known Gustave Flaubert, wrote in 1862. They called them “revelations of the inner world“; and again “[…] here is the treasure of the soul, the Christian golden fleece, the dream”.
Particularly here, in the basilica of St. Vitale, behind the severe and timeless figures of Theodora and Justinian, in the elaborate decorative textures, in the dense symbolism barely illuminated by the reflection of gold, one once again sensed that mystical and eternal charm, which today dazzles anyone who looks out on it.