Unveiled (or almost unveiled?) the identity of the mysterious Byzantine capital of Corte Muazzo?

Unveiled (or almost unveiled?) the identity of the mysterious Byzantine capital of Corte Muazzo?

It was the year 1441 and, under the “Dogado” of Francesco Foscari, Venice was preparing to conquer one of the most strategic cities on the Adriatic sea since the Roman times: Ravenna. And it is precisely the interweaving of what happened in those years between Ravenna and Venice that gives life to the story I’m about to tell you.

For those who are not Venetian, Corte Muazzo is certainly not one of the easiest places to find. Don’t even try to find it on Google Maps, it’s not marked; I can tell you, however, that it is located near Calle Primo Brusà, in the heart of the Castello district. Every time I pass during a Photo Tour, I always stop to admire the very high houses and the square of sky that opens between the 4 walls that delimit the Court. The mysterious capital I want to talk to you is right on the top of the central column of the “portico” which leads to the actual Court. Here were the houses of the Muazzos, an ancient family from Torcello who moved to Venice during the 7th century (although little remains, apart from the splendid Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Santa Fosca, Torcello was a thriving center of trade, before Venice).

The Muazzos, registered with the Venetian patriciate since ancient times, never had a Doge in their family, but had among its members some tribunes and their houses are among the highest in all of Venice. Similar examples can only be found in the Jewish Ghetto, where the lack of space and the increase in population forced them to build more by taking advantage of the height than the surrounding space. But let’s go back to our capital: after admiring it several times, and without ever being able to get information about it, on a recent visit to the Archiepiscopal Museum of Ravenna, I found myself in front of 4 Byzantine capitals of the VI Century almost identical to the one of Corte Muazzo! 2 of them, the most similar to this one in Corte Muazzo, came from the Church of San Marco, the others come from Mantua and from Sant ‘Apollinare in Classe.

The church of San Marco ??? Yes, but I’m not talking about the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, but the church built by the Venetians in Ravenna. In fact, under Francesco Foscari’s “Dogado”, Venice conquered Ravenna in 1441 (the same year as the peace of Cremona with which Venice acquired Peschiera, Brescia, Bergamo and part of the Cremonese). During the rule of Venice over Ravenna, the Venetians built various palaces, and the Brancaleone fortress (from the name of the architect who designed it), at the entrance of which one can still admire the winged lion.

The church of San Marco was built in 1491, next to the pre-existing church of San Sebastiano, in the present Piazza del Popolo. Both churches, then deconsecrated, were demolished in 1925. Carefully observe the leaf decoration at the base of the capitals and the rams at the corners, are they not nearly identical? Certainly many of these capitals were produced during the sixth century, but these seem to come from the same hand. Now, let’s put the pieces together: – There are 3 Byzantine capitals from the 6th century, almost identical to each other. Two of them are in the Archiepiscopal Museum of Ravenna and one in Corte Muazzo in Venice. – The two capitals of the Archiepiscopal Museum come from the demolished Church of San Marco in Ravenna. – The church of San Marco in Ravenna was built by the Venetians in 1491. We can then can easily assume that, during the construction of the Church in Ravenna, a capital took the road to Venice, ending where we can now admire it.


– W. BENDAZZI, R. RICCI, Ravenna. Mosaici, arte, storia, archeologia, monumenti, musei, Ravenna 1987, pp. 80-81, 162;

– V. FONTANA, De instauratione Urbis Ravennae. Architettura e urbanistica durante la dominazione veneziana, in Ravenna in età veneziana, atti del convegno di studi, a cura di D. Bolognesi, Ravenna 1986, pp. 295-304 (particolarm. pp. 295-298) (allego qui anche il suo articoloArchitetture adriatiche del rinascimento. Ravenna e Venezia);

– M. MAZZOTTI, San Sebastiano e San Marco, in Itinerari della Sacra Visita. Chiese di Ravenna scomparse,  a cura di G. Rabotti, Ravenna 2003, pp. 236-237;

– P. NOVARA, La cattedrale di Ravenna. Storia e archeologia, Ravenna 1997, pp. 70-78 (particolarm. pp. 72,74) (con tutta la bibliografia precedente);

–  P. NOVARA, in Le Collezioni del Museo Arcivescovile di Ravenna, a cura dell’Opera di Religione della Diocesi di Ravenna, Ravenna 2011,       pp. 99-100;

– C. RICCI, Guida di Ravenna, VI ed., Ravenna 1923, pp. 15, 47;

– C. RICCI, L’antico duomo di Ravenna, “Felix Ravenna”, n.s., II, 1, XXXVII (1931), pp. 16-28;

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