Turismo Prerrománico > Conservation status > Very good > MAUSOLEO DE GALA PLACIDIA


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Historic environment

Gala Placidia, daughter of Teodosio I and his second wife, also called Gala, was the half-sister of Honorio and Arcadio. She was married twice; the first with the king of the Visigoths, Ataulfo brother-in-law of Alaric, and later with the future emperor Constantius III, with whom he had two children: Justa Grata Honoria and Valentiniano III, the latter future emperor of the West, between the years 425-455.

We know that Gala was born in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) but the exact date of Gala’s birth is unknown, although there are different theories that place it between the years 388-389 or between 392-393 AD.

While still young, Gala, during her stay in Rome, experiences moments of great tension and conflict between the Goths, under the leadership of Alaric, and the Romans, under the rule of Honorius. That is why she will try to return to Ravenna, but she was taken hostage by the Goths during the sack of Rome in the year 410. Captured by Ataulfo, he takes her to Gaul and there she will celebrate her marriage a few years later, in the year 414. But little later, and after the assassination of the Gothic king, Gala is returned to Rome after the signing of new agreements between the Goths and Romans. Gala will remarry in the year 417 with the Roman general Constantius, becoming a widow again in the year 421. After the death of Constantius, subsequent events place Gala Placidia at the center of political tensions at the court of Ravenna. Thus, in the year 423 she moved to Constantinople under the protection of Theodosius. Honorio dies that same year without issue and Juan, a usurper, seizes power. Theodosius II will not accept this situation, sending an army to defend the rights of Valentinian III (Gala’s son) who was finally proclaimed emperor in the year 425. From this moment on, Gala Placida not only had a great influence on imperial politics, Rather, he dedicated himself to promoting works of a religious nature such as the one presented here.


The construction of this building began in the year 424, the same year in which Galla Placidia returned to the West from Byzantium, and it is estimated that it could have been completed around the year 436. Initially, this small building was part of the Basilica of the Santa Croce, to which it was attached through the narthex of said church, but subsequent demolitions turned it into an independent building. The name ‘mausoleum’ is applied to this building, but this interpretation gives rise to disagreements among specialists, and it is difficult to accept that it is the burial place of Galla Placidia. However, it is most plausible that Gala Placida commissioned this construction for this funerary purpose, although its shape as a Latin cross breaks, a priori, with the tradition of an imperial mausoleum with a centralized plan. As arguments in favor of a funerary function, we find its low lighting and the sarcophagi it contains, which, although they are from the same period as the building, were deposited later.

Regarding its formal description, the exterior of the building is very simple and perfectly reflects its plan and its internal structures. The building was made of brick and its exterior walls are articulated by means of a blind archway with semicircular arches on pilasters. These walls are topped with triangular pediments, also made of brick, as an extension of the gabled roof that hides the barrel vaults inside. At the meeting of the arms of the cross, a quadrangular dome rises that hides a hollow vault and crowning its walls, some small cornices decorated with lines of flat tiles mark the change between walls and roofs.

The extreme simplicity of its exterior does not presage the sumptuousness of the interior decoration, resolved with polychrome mosaics. Not surprisingly, we find ourselves before one of the most important collections of mosaics in the paleochristian world.


The chromatic range of the mosaics located inside the building creates a delicate and soft atmosphere that arouses in the visitor a feeling of admiration and true beauty; a sensation of light contributed by the light that filters through the alabaster sheets that cover the small windows; a warm and golden light that gives the building a special luminosity.

The formal richness of these mosaics is dazzling, made up of small, glazed tesserae with an abundance of deep blues.

On the barrel vaults of the four arms that form the cross, decorative motifs abound, made up of flowers and rosettes, inspired by the patterns of oriental fabrics. These arms end in semicircular eardrums which house different types of decoration and rich iconography.

In the tympanum of the entrance we find Christ represented as the ‘Good Shepherd’, one of the most successful early Christian iconographic elements. The figure of Christ corresponds to that of a young and beardless man, represented with a halo of holiness or golden nimbus and leaning on a cross.

On the tympanum of the head we can see the image of San Lorenzo, this being the first figure we see when entering the mausoleum, thus manifesting the importance of this saint at that time, against Christian heresies. San Lorenzo appears represented with attributes similar to those of Christ: the nimbus over his head and a cross resting on his shoulder, with an open book in his hand and next to the grill on which he was tortured.

In the center of the iconographic plan of the mausoleum we find a large cross, in isolation, granting a greater prominence for symbolizing the death of Christ as a man, but also his divine nature. Around the cross hundreds of stars appear on a dark blue background that represents the celestial vault. And in the corners, we can contemplate the figures of the tetramorphs: the lion (San Marcos), the ox (San Lucas), the eagle (San Juan) and the man or an angel (San Mateo).

Mónica Blanco for URBS REGIA

Other interesting information

Hours: 09:00 a.m.- 06:45 p.m. Every day. June to September
10:00 a.m.- 4:45 p.m. From Monday to Thursday. October
09:00-18:45. From Friday to Sunday. October
10:00 a.m.- 4:45 p.m. Every day. November to February

Entrance fee 11.50 euros. Advance reservation is required



BLANCO, J., 2000: “Historia y simbología en el arte musivo de Rávena” Pharos, arte, ciencia y tecnología, vol. 7. nº 1, 3-29.
FUENTES HINOJO, P., 2004: Gala Placidia, Editorial Nerea, San Sebastián.
FERNÁNDEZ R., 2010: Gala Placidia reina de los bárbaros, Ed. Edhasa.