Just behind the Basilica of San Vitale, hidden by the fronds of an immense plane tree, is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, one of Ravenna eight Unesco monuments.
This little building was built in the first half of the 5th century aD as a funeral monument at the behest of Galla Placidia. She was the mother of the regent — the future emperor Valentinian III, daughter of Theodosius I the Great and sister of Honorius, the emperor who moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Ravenna.
However, it never fulfilled its purpose, since the empress died in 450aD in Rome and was buried there.
Even though it appears to be a separate building within the great complex of San Vitale, the mausoleum was originally connected to the narthex (portico) of the nearby Basilica of Santa Croce, which was later destroyed.
Looking it from the outside, it appears of small dimensions, laid out in a cruciform plan with a brick face wall, in a plain and clean style. At the junction of the four arms, the dome raises in a tiburio (dome with segments) with a square turret.
Overall, due to subsidence, i.e. the progressive lowering of the ground, the building seems lower that it was in the past — buried about 1.5 metres below ground.
Inside, the lower part is covered with yellow marble, while the upper part is decorated in its entirety with magnificent mosaics: walls, arches, lunettes and ceiling.
Between Hellenistic-Roman art and Christian tradition, the iconography depict on multiple interpretative layers the triumph of eternal life above death.
In the centre of the dome amid an immense starry sky is in all its splendour a golden Latin cross, the symbol for Christ the Rising Sun.
Around him the four Beings of the Apocalypse acclaim him, and, in the lunettes, the apostles stand surrounded by doves and waterspouts symbolising Grace drawn from the divine Source.
According to the same metaphor, in the lunettes to the East and West, the deer drink the sacred water of Baptism in a celestian garden. In the lunette in front of the entrance, next to a burning grill, stands Laurence the Martyr.
Above the entrance, the most precious mosaic: Cristo Buon Pastore (Christ the Good Shepherd) among his sheep.
Magnificent, everywhere, are the floral and geometrical decorations, which transform the semi-darkness of the funerary monument into a hymn to light and the visit to the mausoleum into a prayer of longing for Eternal Life.