Old Bishop Euphrasius still shining

limsky-forjd-border.jpg The purpose of our day trip to the north of Istria was the Limska Draga Fjord, defined as ‘the most dramatic sight of Istria’ by our guidebook – we could hardly miss it. So off we drove on the winding road from Rovinj to Sveti Lovrec, into the scented campagna, full of pine trees singing the song of all the raunchy cicadas of the region. It took us a while to find our beauty spot and we nearly passed it without noticing, were it not for a little signpost on the road pointing to the left. We stopped the car to catch a view and yes, there was indeed some blue-greenish water in the distance, down in the Draga Valley. I was trying to conceptualise Limska Draga’s 9 km-length and 600 m-width in my head, when I heard Ross slamming the car door, and I knew that the show was over, falling short of the expected drama. I quickly suggested a visit to the nearby town of Porec with a well-deserved coffee break on a terrace overlooking the harbour.

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Beside being a fine example of a 2nd-century Roman town, with its logical, rectangular street plans, remnants of original pavement and old ruins, Porec housed a secret that was to be the highpoint of the day: the magnificent frescoes of the Euphrasian Basilica, tuck in a corner of town. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Porec came under Byzantine rule, lasting from 6th to 8th century. The Euphrasian Basilica was constructed then, under the influence of Byzantine culture, on the site of a 4th century basilica and 5th century church. It is now a World Heritage site, and a very fine, almost-intact example of Byzantine art. From the atrium we could see beautiful, turquoise and golden mosaics on the exterior walls of the basilica, and once inside, I was struck by the power of art made in the name of God. In the apse, superbly well-preserved mosaics from the 6th-century structure were glittering in all their splendour. Depicted were the usual biblical scenes of saints, martyrs and angelic wings of hope, rendered with the full passion and soul of some devout, yet unknown craftsmen. The Visitation scene particularly affected me, with the shimmering contours of Mary’s and Elisabeth’s holy figures, lightening the background colours in their wake, and the bemused face of a monk suddenly caught in the scene.

Knowing that those masterpieces had been viewed and worshiped for the last 15 centuries made my thoughts wander to remote corners of the basilica, beyond the clerestory, to the top of the belfry and far above in the sky. I felt privileged to be here. Ross tried to capture the exulting feeling in digital mode but I knew we would never be satisfied with a virtual copy. On the left, beside angels and martyrs, commissioner Bishop Euphrasius stood there, grave and proud, with a model of the church in his hand. We gave a toast to him while meditating, beer in hand, in the cool shade of a bar on the square. Today was one of the rare instances where I felt man-made art outshining Nature’s beautiful endeavours.

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~ by lavivette on July 8, 2007.

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