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Municipality of Ravenna

The “Decuman” plain and Via Ravegnana journeys

The “Decuman” plain and Via Ravegnana journeys
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ItineraryThe journeys

Near the site where the ruins of the ancient built‑up area of Classe were discovered is the Dismano (national highway SS 71), a straight road which since ancient times has linked Ravenna with Cesena on the Via Emilia, crossing that part of the plain between the Savio and Ronco rivers generally known as the “Decuman land”. This vast area, in which traces of human presence in the protohistoric epoch were discovered, was involved in the planning of agricultural land that the Romans carried out in the Republican Age, the division in two hundred juger plots, and subsequently became the property of the church of Ravenna, in the early Middle Ages. The church divided it into many districts, each under a parish church. The parish churches of the Romagna plain (often the only trace of the presence of Christianity in rural areas) were mainly built in the early Middle Ages. They are characterised by a repetitive architecture that only rarely goes beyond recurrent schemes, inspired by the mode[ of urban building of Ravenna in the 5th and 6th centuries (and as a result called “Ravenna parish churches” in the specialised literature, even if often located outside the actual diocese of Ravenna). These buildings, which have come down to us modified and readapted in function of liturgical necessities or ruined by wear and tear and preserved thanks to expert restoration work carried out since the first years of the 20th century, are often “forgotten”and therefore should be re-evaluated. They are single nave or nave and two aisles punctuated by masonry pillars, with apses that are semicircular internally and polygonal externally. The façades are very austere, usually with a door and an upper window, often two light,and bell‑towers that are sometimes cylindrical and sometimes quadrangular. The walls are built with materials recovered from more ancient buildings and the marble materials, very rarely used in these buildings, are also recycled. The Dismano road stands out in the middle of the plain, crossing small built‑up areas, some of which only recently developed. A few kilometres from Ravenna is the built‑up area of San Zaccaria, at the boundary of which stands the parish church of San Bartolomeo “in decimo” (a toponymy indicating the distance in miles from the beginning of the road). The building we see today was built in 1746, replacing a more ancient church of uncertain chronology. From a description prior to its demolition we know it was nave and two aisles punctuated by masonry pillars. Only the square bell‑tower (different from the tradition of Ravenna which favours cylindrical bell‑towers) belongs to the ancient building, although only its lower part can be assigned to the early Middle Ages, the 10th century to be precise.

Santo StefanoSanto Stefano

By the roads leading from the Dismano to the built‑up area of Cervia, we find the locality of Pisignano and, nearby, the parish church of Santo Stefano. The church we see today is the result of a total reconstruction carried out in 1521, as the tablet over the entrance door states, following the building’s ruin after the bloody battle fought near Ravenna in 1512: the “Gotti” (Goths) to whom the inscription attributes the destruction of the building were in all probability the French who sacked Ravenna and the neighbouring countrysideafter the battle. The building’s present form of nave and two aisles punctuated by masonry pillars must substantially follow the plan of the ancient church of which we know nothing except that it already existed in 977. Noteworthy in the present day building are the apse paintings, almost unanimously attributed to the Ravenna painter Luca Longhi or to his school, and the marble materials, from the original parish church or from other structures existing in ancient times in the area: these are inside the church or fragments immured in the external walls. One which catches the eye is a small calcareous block bearing the blessing hand of God, recognisable as part of a “wayside cross”. Wayside crosses, among which we have already noted the beautiful piece in the church of Castiglione, were signs placed near the urban or country churches or monasteries held to be closely connected with the phenomenon of pilgrimage, perhaps thinking that also in the Emilia‑Romagna area, where these road signs were numerous, the crosses would guide the believer to the sanctuary, as occurred along the more famous road to Santiago de Compostela. On the subject of pilgrimage however, it is worth remembering that in the area around Pisignano, near the parish church, some mediaeval reliquary mass‑cruets were discovered, an almost isolated case in our area and in the Italian peninsula, but apparently not connected with a local sanctuary.

San Cassiano San Cassiano “in decimo”

With a tortuous stretch separating off to west from that of the Dismano there is a group of roads consisting of the Erbosa, Petrosa and Pasna roads, seemingly created in the Middle Ages as alternative routes for linking Ravenna with the Via Emilia by way of the first stretch of the Dismano.

Along the Petrosa road, in the built‑up area of Campiano, is the parish church of San Cassiano “in decimo” (also in this case the toponymy indicates a road distante from the starting point of the stretch). This little church, which deviates in structure from the recurrent model of the Ravenna countryside, is single nave terminating in a large apse which is internally semicircula and externally polygonal. A quadrangula bell-tower, enclosed in the left corner of the building, is lightened by six orders of multi-light windows. It is traditionally called “la Bertolla” because one of its walls bears a fragmentary statue believed to be female but actually representing a male pagan divinity, probably the god Apollo.

As usually happens with the parish churches of Ravenna, the chronology of the construction of this buolding is unknown; the oldest documentation on the parish of San Cassiano dates to 896, but its structure as we see it today cannot be totally ascribed to the 9th century. Analysis of its walls clarified in fact that the church, though maintaining its original plan, underwent many rebuilding and rearrangements up to the 18th century, particularlu in the 12th when the upper part of the façade was redone, with the central two light window decorated wuth two mascarons and the bell-tower.

Concerning the bell-tower, we should note the interesting use of an ornamental form typical of Tuscan religious buildings but very rare in the Po Valley area: the insertion of plychrome ceramics in the walls, known in technical language as “basins”. A batch of these “basins”, 12th century and of Byzantine manufacture, can be found in the bell-tower of Campiano.

Near the present day course of the river Ronco a short tretch of road connects the built-up area of Gambellara to that of San Pietro in Vincoli, following the filled-in former bed of a stretch of the river Ronco. In the middle of the built-up area is the parish church of San Lorenzo in Vado Rondino, which is still the parish church today. This building was almost entirely rebuilt in 1863 and only its apse can be considered a part of the ancient parish church, mentioned for the first time in a document of 966 though some believe it to be 7th century. The name of Vado Rondino referred to the fact that the building was near a ford (in old italian “vado”) of the river Ronco. The present day name of the built-up area derives from the famous hospice built by king Stefano in the early 11th century. Stefano, who christianised Hungary and promoted pilgrimages to Rome, intended the hospice to be used for accomodating believers and royal delegates on their way to the Holy City. When it no longer served its original purpose the complex became the property of Benedictine Monks, documented as being there from the 12th century, then of the Camalolensian Monks from the 13th century. The complex, including a vast body of building used for accomodation and a small church, was identified in the structure today partly used as the Carabinieri Barracks in which the presence of the church can stil be detected though the apse section is missing. Following the course of the river Ronco the Via Ravegnana (national highway SS67) connects Ravenna with Forlì on the Via Emilia. A few kilometres from Ravenna is the parish church of Sant’Apollinare in Longana which, legend has it, takes its name from the first bishop of Ravenna who, according to tradition, lived the last years of his life in that place. The church is single nave, rectangular, and has a quadrangular bell-tower. The plan is late medieval, probably the first years of the 11th century, but it underwent many rearrangements from the 16th century on. The entrance door, today facing the road, was originally on the opposite side of the building where it is still visible, walled up; in the place of the present day access door there was an apse which was demolished in the course of the many rebuilding interventions. Before arriving at the built.up area of Coccolia, a road perpendicular to Via Ravegnana leads to the nearby village of San Pietro in Trento where there is a parish church from which the village takes its name.

The longitudinal plan building is divided into nave and two aisles by masonry pillars; the nave terminates in an internal semicirculare apse and an external plygonal one with three curved windows; the light filters into the church through the windows of the apse and through the narrow emrasures along the perimeter walls. In the apse, whose plan is elevates with respect to the rest of the building, there is a very small crypt of the type called “oratory”.

This area , probably built at the end of the 10th centurym is covered by a vaulted ceiling supported by four re-used pillars surmunted by finely decorated capitals: an unknown jewel of medieval Ravenna architecture. It is difficult to estabilish the chronology of the construction of this building, mentioned for the first time in a documet of 978, but current opinion is that the structure was founded at the beginning of the 9th century.

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