Mausoleo di Galla Placidia

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Europe, Italy, Ravenna

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a Roman mausoleum in Ravenna, Italy. It is one of the eight structures in Ravenna that were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996. As the UNESCO experts reasoned, "it is the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments, and at the same time one of the most artistically perfect". The mausoleum is laid out in a Greek cross plan with barrel vaults over the four transepts and central dome on pendentives. On the exterior, the dome is enclosed in a square tower that rises above the lateral, gabled wings. The surface is covered in bricks with narrow mortar joints, with blind arcades. The building (formerly the oratory of a wider church of the Holy Cross) contains three sarcophagi; it was said that the largest was that of Galla Placidia, (died 450, daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I), and that her embalmed body was deposited there in a sitting position, clothed with the imperial mantle; in 1577, however, the contents of the sarcophagus were accidentally burned. The sarcophagus to the right is attributed to Emperor Valentinian III or to Galla Placidia's brother, Emperor Honorius. The one on the left is attributed to Galla Placidia's husband, Emperor Constantius III. It is not currently used as a mausoleum, however, and it is unknown what the building’s intended purpose was when it was built. The most common story is that the structure was built by Galla Placidia, a well-known patron of the arts in the fifth century, to be used as a mausoleum for her and her family. There seems to be no evidence to prove or disprove Galla’s connection to the building. The mausoleum was once connected to the narthex of the now in ruins Santa Croce, the church for the imperial palace, built in 417. Santa Croce was one of Galla’s first commissioned buildings. The floor has been raised five feet since the fifth century in order to match the rising water of the upper Adriatic coast. The interior is covered in rich Byzantine mosaics, and light enters through alabaster window panels. The center of the dome holds a gold cross against a blue sky of stars and evangelist symbols among the clouds. The inside contains two famous mosaic lunettes, with the rest of the space full of mosaics of Christian symbols and Apocalyptic symbols. The central bay’s upper walls are decorated with four pair of apostles and alabaster windows. These apostles are acclaiming a giant gold cross, the symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ, in the center of the dome. Among the apostles, we recognize St. Peter and St. Paul. The lunette over the North entrance shows a mosaic of the Good Shepherd tending his flocks. Christ appears as the Good Shepherd and is the focal point of the composition. Christ is holding an imperial staff joined to the Christian cross, symbolizing the combined earthly and heavenly domains. The lunette over the South wall presents a representation widely though to be St. Lawrence, standing next to a flaming gridiron. On the other side, there is a bookcase holding four books, each inscribed with the name of an evangelist. An art historian, Gillian Mackie, believes the panel actually pictures St. Vincent of Saragossa, a Spanish saint. Mackie’s argument mentions Galla’s connection to Spain, which may have caused her to choose a Spanish saint over an Italian saint like St. Lawrence. Galla lived in Spain for a crucial period of her life and after losing both her husband and son in Spain, Galla, a pious Christian, may have developed a devotion to Spain’s leading martyr. St. Vincent was a known and celebrated saint throughout the Roman world who died when he was sewn into a weighted shroud and thrown into the sea. This could have held personal significance with Galla, who, with her children, had been saved from death by shipwreck. The panel seems to be an illustration of the poem about St. Vincent in Prudentius’ fifth century Passio Sancti Vincent Martyris. In the poem, St. Vincent is being ordered to disclose his sacred books to be burned. This explains the cupboard containing the Gospels which has no