The Stupendous, but Empty Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
The mausoleum of the Roman Empress Galla Placidia in Ravenna dates from around 430 AD, making it one of the oldest monuments in Ravenna. Most probably, its very modest external appearance won’t strike your imagination. The mausoleum is a rather squat building made of red brick. Because of subsidence, it sank 4.5 feet into the ground over the centuries. The building is built according to a simple Greek cross plan (40 feet by 30 feet) and is decorated only by blind semi-arches. The mausoleum was initially attached to the church of Saint Cross that was also built by Galla Placidia and can be seen in the background. Now it stands in the backyard of the Basilica San Vitale under branchy pines.
When I entered the building, I lost my breath for a long moment. So glorious and entirely unexpected were Byzantine mosaics covering nearly all its surface. The dominant color was deep azure and gleaming gold. After initial stupefaction, I was caught by a feeling of profound peace and harmony. I could not tear myself away from the ceiling I gazed and gazed till my head began swimming. Concentric circles of golden stars against a background of dark blue sky hypnotized me. In fact, there are 800 big and small stars! A whole Universe! It seemed that the stars were slowly gyrating around the golden celestial cross that was situated in the dead centre of the vault. In each corner of the ceiling, there were ancient symbols of four Evangelists: a winged human for Matthew, a winged lion for Mark, a winged ox – for Luke and an eagle for John. These figures seemed to be floating in the infinite Heaven.
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