The Neonian Bapistery (Battistero Neoniano, also known as the Battistero Ortodosso or Orthodox Baptistery) is an octagonal baptistery built in the 5th century. It is the oldest monument in Ravenna and contains some of the city's most beautiful Byzantine mosaics.
History of Neonian Baptistery
The Battistero Neoniano was built as part of Ravenna's orthodox (non-Arian) cathedral, which was built in the early 5th century but no longer stands in its original form. The baptistery was converted from an old Roman bath-house, beginning under Bishop Ursus around 400 AD.
The building was finished by Bishop Neone (451-75) in the second half of the 5th century, during which the mosaics were added to the dome. It is from this bishop that the Battistero Neoniano gets its name.
What to See at Neonian Baptistery
The octagonal baptistery is constructed of brick and topped with a dome made of hollow tubes to save weight. The building looks like it has sunk below ground, but actually the street level has risen almost 10 feet since it was built. Beside the baptistery is the round Romanesque campanile of the cathedral, dating from the 10th century.
In the center of the baptistery's cupola is a magnificent mosaic laid out in concentric circles like a great wheel. The central medallion depicts the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. The right arm of John the Baptist, the dove, and Christ's head are all 18th century restorations. The dish that St. John is using to pour the water was added in the 19th century by a Roman artisan named Felice Kibel, who was charged with restoring the mosaics and went overboard with creative license.
But the majority of the magnificent dome mosaic remains remarkably intact in its original form, given its venerable age. The lower right of the central baptism scene is a personification of the Jordan River as an old man rising from the water, holding a reed in one hand and offering a garment to Christ in the other.
This scene is surrounded by a large inner ring with the Twelve Apostles, who carry crowns in veiled hands and walk slowly in procession. The men, each identified by name in the mosaic, are depicted in deep blues and sparkling golds.
The outer ring of the mosaic is divided into eight sections, with alternating empty thrones, representing the divinity of Christ, and altars with open Gospel books. The thrones are flanked by depictions of the celestial gardens, while the altars are flanked by empty chairs to represent the place reserved in heaven for the Elect.
For comparison, be sure to visit Ravenna's Arian Baptistery, which also has a baptism scene in its dome.
The arches supporting the dome are decorated with mosaics of golden acanthus leaves on blue and red backgrounds and stucco reliefs of prophets and biblical scenes, which date from the same period as the dome mosaics (451-75).
In the wall spandrels below are gold vines and prophets on a deep blue background. The arches over the niches have gold mosaic inscriptions on a blue background with red borders, decorated with abstract designs. The underside of the arches have crosses and trees on golden backgrounds.
The inlaid marble designs on the walls, including porphyry disks and green marble rectangles, are preserved from the ancient Roman baths. A Byzantine altar and a Roman marble vase can be seen in the side niches. The large octagonal baptismal font dates from the 12th or 13th century.
Quick Facts on Neonian Baptistery
|Names:||Battistero Neoniano · Battistero Ortodosso · Neonian Baptistery|
|Categories:||baptisteries; octagonal buildings; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||44.415624° N, 12.197324° E|
|Address:||Piazza del Duomo|
|Hours:||Apr-Sept daily 9am-7pm|
Mar and Oct daily 9am-5:30pm
Nov-Feb daily 9:30am-4:30pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Neonian Baptistery|
- Personal visit (May 10, 2008).
- Guiseppe Bovini, Ravenna: Art and History (Ravenna: Longo), 107-08.
- Paul Blanchard, Blue Guide Northern Italy: From the Alps to the Adriatic, 12th ed. (London: Somerset Books, 2005), 660.
- Darwin Porter, Frommer's Italy 2006.
- Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna - UNESCO World Heritage List
- Photos of Neonian Baptistery - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Neonian Baptistery, Ravenna
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