Ravenna: Space and Time of a City between East and West Lecture Series Cities in Mediterranean Antiquity

Ravenna: Space and Time of a City between East and West

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Lauro Olmo


  1. Lauro OlmoLauro Olmo

    Es profesor titular, acreditado a catedrático, de Arqueología de la Universidad de Alcalá, donde es coordinador del área de Arqueología. Licenciado en Historia y Geografía (especialidad en Prehistoria y Arqueología) por la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid y doctor en Historia por la Universidad de Alcalá, es especialista en arqueología medieval y arqueología del paisaje, así como en investigación, restauración y puesta en valor del patrimonio histórico. Ha sido becario Fulbright postdoctoral y Visiting Scholar en la Universidad de Harvard (1989-1992), y profesor visitante en las universidades de Harvard (2008), Siena (1988-89), Ca' Foscari de Venecia (2010) y Sassari (2013). Ha sido director del Máster de Restauración y Rehabilitación del Patrimonio de la Universidad de Alcalá y es profesor del Máster en Arqueología y Gestión de Patrimonio en el Interior Peninsular del mismo centro académico. Ha sido delegado del rector para el Patrimonio Histórico de la Universidad de Alcalá, Patrimonio de la Humanidad (2003-2009).

    Entre otras dirige, y ha dirigido, investigaciones arqueológicas en: Ciudad visigoda y andalusí de Recópolis (desde 1992); Vega Baja de Toledo, yacimiento de época visigoda y andalusí; Universidad de Alcalá; Castillo de Burgos; Mezquita del antiguo Convento de Sta. Clara (Córdoba); y Ciudadela de Amman Jebel al Qala (Amman, Jordania). Dirige y ha dirigido proyectos de investigación nacionales y autonómicos, y ha impartido conferencias y ponencias invitadas en diferentes universidades, museos e instituciones culturales y es autor de libros y artículos en revistas científicas sobre arqueología y patrimonio arqueológico. Entre sus títulos más recientes, se encuentran los libros Catálogo del Patrimonio Histórico Inmueble de la Defensa (2011), y como editor Recópolis y la ciudad en época visigoda (2008).

Italo Calvino in his book Invisible Cities expressed how "cities are made for the relationships between the dimension of their space and the happenings of their past", and following this appropriate definition that explains how can a city be understood from the point of view of its memory, he perfectly puts us in front of the case of Ravenna. A city of cities, since the Etruscan period to the present, but with an image strength reaching its maximum by the end of the Antique period and the beginning of the Early Middle Ages. It is along the 5th to 8th century when this city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire (402-476 A.D.), head of the Ostrogoth kingdom (493-540 A.D.), and main Byzantine city of Italy (540-751 A.D.). Urban spaces along which the Romans Honorius and Galla Placidia, as well as the Ostrogoth Theoderic the Great walked, and which reflected the imperial desires of Justinian and Theodora. A landscape of palaces, churches, baptistries, mausoleums, mosaics, houses, commercial areas, ports and productive areas; a reflection of life during a time of changes and transformations. A city constrained by the territory's morphology with numerous lagoons separated from the sea by lines of dunes, and criss-crossed by fluvial courses.

It will be in the 5th century, once Ravenna was already the capital of the Empire, that it will experience its maximum growth, including a significant construction activity that will produce a high-level monumental landscape defined by the confrontation in terms of urban influence with Constantinopla to east. It is during this period when this urban conurbation that we know as Ravenna articulates: with its fortress, the southern suburb Cesarea, and the port of Classe to the south, all of them connected through a big canal running in parallel to the coast. Nevertheless, it is in the 6th century during the Ostrogoth and Byzantine periods when the city acquires its most characteristic physiognomy. The large sanitation works in the swampy areas ordered by King Theoderic, as well as the big push given to Classe port, allowed for the creation of a urban landscape with new religious, Palatine and commercial constructions that transformed Ravenna into a dynamic and bustling capital, which also included a cultural and intellectual centre unparalleled in the West. During the Byzantine period this trend will remain and the traditional relationship with the East will even increase with new buildings, new power architectures, and renewed economic dynamics. This was a time full of meeting points for people, ideas, cultural elements, and goods coming from the different Mediterranean shores (Eastern, Western and North African).

This way, the image of the city was established, and still along the critical periods of the 7th century it offered powerful images and ideas that for example triggered Droctulft, a warrior of the Lombard army besieging the city, to change sides and die defending Ravenna. This image further perdured, and this way, once Carlomagno claimed being the successor of the Roman Empire, he inspired in the buildings and landscapes of Ravenna to build his new capital with Palatine buildings Aachen. The dimensions of Ravenna's space and the happenings of its past contributed to the creation of a fundamental space of the Mediterranean and European memory.