7 JUNE 1913, Page 24


"PLUS byzantine qua Constantinople elle-merne," wrote Dantier of Ravenna; and Gregorovius described her as " le Pomp& de l'epoque gothique et byzantine." This sad city, whose streets have no outward beauty, shut off by her marshes from the rest of Italy, distant now from the sea which was the chief cause of her ancient grandeur, was once, as may easily be forgotten, a city greater than Rome. In the days of the Exarcha, when Rome was treated as a pro- vincial town, the Byzantine Empire held Ravenna as its Italian capital. But some of the city's most wonderful monuments date from an earlier age still, from the last days of the old Roman Empire, when Ilonorius took refuge there, and when his sister Galla Placidia, that powerful heroine of history and romance, reigned and was buried there. This was in the year 450, so that her magni- ficent mausoleum contains some of the oldest mosaics in Italy. Then followed Theodoric; and it is to the Gothic race and the Arian heresy that we owe such marvels as St. Apollinare Nuovo, not to mention the great deserted tomb, " Il Rotondo," where the King lay in his porphyry sarcophagus till unknown hands cast him out. Different legends account for that action, worthy of the Dark Age of which Ravenna is at every turn so strange a monument. It occurs to one that the true story may be handed down by the nightingales—if any are left—who used to make the early summer evenings musical round about the tomb.

Mr. Hutton's delightful book will be welcomed by everyone who knows Ravenna, and will certainly send many fresh travellers there. His object has been to explain and prove what he thinks has never yet been made sufficiently clear, "the unique importance of Ravenna in the history of Italy and of Europe"; and he has carried out his plan, we need hardly say, in a most attractive manner. This is no dry history of a confused, barbarous, often monotonous age. Woven in with the long story of persons and events, told so that it carries a reader along as irresistibly as any novel, runs a thread of vivid local description which, aided by Mr. Harald Sand's worthy illustrations, brings the whole little-changed scene before our eyes. For ourselves we must confess that the gems of the book are to be found where Mr. Hutton, an artist in words as well as in the reverence and enthusiasm with which he meets these marvels of old time, takes his reader inside those repellent walls of rugged brick, under the shadow of the round bell towers, and shows him such an interior, for instance, as that of St. Apollinare Nuovo, with its long processions of saints in solemn mosaic of the sixth century, partly Arian, partly orthodox, with which "there is nothing in Christendom to compare." Mr. Hutton calls these pro- cessions " indescribable " : we can only say that his description brings them back, after many years, as though they had been seen yesterday.

This is only an instance of Mr. Hutton's treatment of his enchanting subject. He leaves nothing out, but carries Ravenna through history down to the mid-nineteenth century and United Italy. As to the immortal scenery, we end, as we should, with Dante, BoCcaccio, and Byron in the still lovely though ruined Pineta.