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Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Religious building, Ravenna

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia: Attraction informations

The structure of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna was initially linked to the narthex of the former Church of Santa Croce, built under her wishes. The cross-shaped structure was higher than nowadays, as all the buildings in Ravenna are under the effect of subsidence, which makes them lower themselves into the ground. The original planking level was 1.5 metres lower than the current one.

Going inside through its small entrance we are welcomed by an amazing sparkling of mosaics, incredibly well-conserved until today. The ones covering the walls are in fact the oldest existing example of mosaics, thought to be from 425 and 450, and have guaranteed the belonging of the mausoleum to the Unesco Heritage Sites list since 1996. The lower part is covered by precious marbles, while on the higher wall we can easily recognise scenes from Christianity. Right on top of the main entrance, inside a lunette, we can see the representation of the Good Pastor, and on the opposite side the figure of Saint Lawrence and his martyrdom.

The dome of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is completely covered by a carpet of stars ending at the cross. Together with the stars, the apostles are represented, placed side by side by the animals who represent them, and the figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Every single centimetre is decorated, giving the illusion of a soft drapery that follows the building’s shape, enhanced by the light coming in through the windows.

The figure of Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia was one of the greatest protagonists of her times. Granddaughter of Emperor Valentinian I, her uncles were emperors Graziano and Valentinian II and her half-brothers, Arcadio e Onorio, were both also emperors. She married Ataulfo, king of the Visigoth, and subsequently Costanzo III, who was then a Roman Emperor.

Her grandson, Teodosio II and her son, Valentinian III, were also both seated at the Empire’s throne. The latter was made king when he was still too young to reign; Galla Placidia was in fact the one to reign the whole empire for a long time.

Galla’s stormy and exciting life caused her to never be buried inside the mausoleum she made near the Church. Her remains were in fact buried in the ancient Church of Saint Peter in Rome, and then probably lost while it underwent some of its many changes over the last centuries. The sarcophagi inside the mausoleum therefore were never used.

The mausoleum was not the only building the queen gave to the city of Ravenna: the Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista is also due to her wishes. The church is currently slightly off the centre of the city, near the central train station, probably because when it was built the coast line arrived up to where now we see the train rails, and the queen wanted the Church as an ex-voto to remember she managed to escape death in a terrible shipwreck.