Rimini and Ravenna

Sunday 23rd May 2010, Gatteo a Mare, north of Rimini
We made maximum use of the wifi at the campsite in San Marino this morning leaving just before midday with a sense of relief that once again we were on top of everything for a while. It's a steep 15 kilometre downhill run from the campsite below San Marino to the coast at Rimini. Down here the landscape is completely flat, in total contrast to the inland area.

On Sundays there is less traffic around and we were able to park Modestine not far from the old town in a patch of shade. Temperatures have been hovering around 30 degrees and once it becomes that hot walking around the way we do is completely draining.

Rimini was one of the most damaged Italian towns during the Second World War so historic buildings are widely interspaced with more modern ones. There are two different aspects to Rimini. Firstly there is the town fronting the sea which grew up in the nineteenth century. It is linked to the older town, which is set back from the sea by a canal. The banks are lined by fishing and leisure craft. The old town is surrounded by the vestiges of its ancient walls and various Roman remains.

Canal port, Rimini

There are three things really worth seeing in Rimini though the rest of the town is pleasant enough. The first is the arch of Augustus, constructed in 27BC and forming the entrance to the old city. The second, at the opposite end of the town, is the Roman bridge of Tiberius completed in AD21 as stated by the Latin inscription along its parapets.

Arch of Augustus, Rimini

Bridge of Tiberius, Rimini

Inscription on bridge of Tiberius, Rimini

Of course Ian was as excited as a child at the thought of walking over the bridge of Tiberius. The suburb beyond can be easily overlooked by visitors but today local families were out together for Sunday lunch. They sat out in the sunshine and most seemed to be eating the same thing – mussels accompanied by a plate of spaghetti in tomato sauce. We stopped for a coffee and a couple of wraps filled with dry-smoked ham and cheese. It was nicer than it sounds.

The third must-see thing is of course the temple of the Malatesta family. They don't strike me as a very pleasant dynasty- a bit of a headache really as their name implies. Sigismondo Malatesta had repudiated one wife and murdered two others in order to make a somewhat irregular marriage to his favourite mistress Isotta. He commissioned the Temple from the architect Alberti to shelter the tomb of Isotta and a magnificent Renaissance building resulted decorated with the entwined initials of Sigismondo and Isotta. Our search for the temple took us into some very sunny streets. Poor Ian, all I did was moan! Even walking is an effort when it's suddenly this temperature.

Malatesta Temple, Rimini
The town also has several other major churches and even has the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. There is an 18th century fish market on the Piazza Cavour which is still in daily use. The square has an early fountain from which local people still draw water. On the opposite side of the square is the Palazzo dell'Arengo, built in 1204. Under its impressive portico justice was decided and the local measures from the 16th century are still displayed on the wall.

Place Cavour with Palazzo dell'Arengo on the right, Rimini

Fountain. Piazza Cavour, Rimini

Fish market, Piazza Cavour, Rimini

Official measures, Piazza Cavour, Rimini

Rather nice lion with cubs, Piazza Cavour, Rimini

The Civic Library is in the impressive Palazzo Gambalunga, built by Alessandro Gambalunga between 1610 and 1614. It housed his library and also a workshop for binding his books. He was a generous patron of artists and writers who met in his house. We looked into the courtyard where preparations were under way for a concert to be held later in the day.

Palazzo Gambalunga, Rimini

We decided that we ought to visit the seaside bit, but it seemed an interminable drag, although fortunately the streets were lined with trees which provided some welcome shade. This ran out at the end of the avenue where there was an attractive fountain with stone horses sneezing water through their noses. No sign of the sea though, just a forest of umbrellas spurned by people sizzling contentedly on sun loungers in the full glare of the sun. When Noel Coward sang about mad dogs and Englishmen he should have added a verse about Italians.

Seaside fountain, Rimini

Frying today, Rimini

Our seaside experience lasted a full five minutes. Wimpishly we slunk back to shaded benches in the gardens where we enjoyed a delicious ice-cream before finding our way back to Modestine to continue our journey laboriously northwards along the interminable coastal strip to find our campsite.

Monday 24th May 2010, Lido di Pomposa, near Comaccio
We are back on familiar ground having passed this way in May 2006. Generally we try to choose different routes as we travel around Europe but some things really are worth going back to for a second visit. Ravenna, with its wonderful Byzantine mosaics is an outstanding example and our route today covered much the same ground and sights as did our previous visit on 14th May 2006 Re-reading that report this evening there is little more to add from today's visit. We did though fail to mention then that Ravenna has eight 5th and 6th century sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list! It also has another forty or so sites of historical and cultural interest. In AD 402 Honorius abandoned Rome and made Ravenna the capital of the Roman Empire.

As then we started with a visit to the 6th century church of Sant'Appolinare in Classe with its amazing mosaics and stone sarcophagi. We had not realised on our last visit that the interior of this huge, brick-built church had been raided by Sigismondo Malatesta who took most of the marble decoration to embellish the temple of the Malatestas that we saw yesterday in Rimini.

Interior of Sant'Appolinare in Classe, Ravenna

5th century sarcophagus, Sant'Appolinare in Classe, Ravenna

Mosaic in the apse, Sant'Appolinare in Classe, Ravenna

Impromptu brass band concert, Sant'Appolinare in Classe, Ravenna

We had hoped to leave Modestine and take the bus into Ravenna for the day. The bus never arrived so we were obliged to drive in and park outside the city walls. With temperatures of 35 degrees we were both feeling bad tempered as we sought the shade. Entering the ancient churches, the baptistery, the mausoleum and the museum all became a joy, as much to escape the heat as for the stunning mosaics above the altars and covering the walls. Ravenna's Byzantine mosaics are considered to be the most spectacular in Europe, even surpassing those of Constantinople. We think they, and the buildings that contain them, are possibly the most stunning works of art we have seen anywhere on our travels. It is awesome to realise that they have been there for 1500 years, their beauty as bright as when they were first made.

Mosaics in the basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna

Mosaics in the basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna

Mosaic depicting the martyrdom of San Laurent, roasted alive on a grid iron. Mausoleum of Galle Placidia, Ravenna

Mosaic in the dome of the Orthodox or Neono Baptistry depicting the baptism of Christ surrounded by the apostles, Ravenna

On our way back to Modestine we visited the 6th century church of Sant'Appolinare Nuovo.

Sant'Appolinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Sant'Appolinare Nuovo, Ravenna

We also visited Dante's tomb once more.

Tomb of Dante Alighieri, Ravenna