LivingTravelMosaics and monuments in Ravenna, Italy

Mosaics and monuments in Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna is known as the city of mosaics because of the impressive mosaics from the 5th and 6th centuries that decorate the walls of its churches and monuments, and because it remains one of the leading producers of mosaics in Italy. Ravenna has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, plus Roman sites, museums, Dante’s tomb, and a famous summer music festival. Much of the historic center is a compact and flat pedestrian zone.

History of Ravenna

Ravenna was a Roman city that rose to prominence in the 5th to 8th centuries, when it was the western capital of the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in Europe. Once a lagoon city, the canals were covered in the 15th century when Ravenna was ruled by Venice. Its elegant central square, Piazza del Popolo , was created during this period. In the 1700s a new canal was built that reconnected Ravenna to the sea.

Ravenna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Eight of Ravenna’s monuments and churches from the 5th and 6th centuries are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, most due to their spectacular early Christian mosaics.

  • Basilica of San Vitale: The Basilica of San Vitale is one of Italy’s most important monuments of early Christian art. The basilica has an elegant cupola and stunning 6th century mosaics in its apse.
  • Mausoleo di Galla Placidia: Galla Placidia was the daughter, sister, wife and mother of the Roman emperors. She had this mausoleum built in the middle of the 5th century. The interior is impressive. The mosaics are some of the oldest in the city.
  • Battistero degli Ortodossi: This baptistery was built in the late 4th and early 5th centuries and is the oldest of Ravenna’s monuments. Spectacular mosaics decorate the dome.
  • Battistero degli Ariani: This baptistery is one of the few remaining monuments of the Arian cult, the official religion of the court of Empress Theodora. The dome is again decorated with beautiful mosaics.
  • Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo – The basilica was originally a palatine church. Byzantine-style mosaics cover two walls reflecting the cult beliefs of the early Catholics and Arians.
  • Chapel of Sant’Andrea : the chapel was built as a private chapel. Inside are mosaics of flowers, figures of Christ and at least 99 species of birds.
  • Mausoleo di Teodorico : Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, had this tomb built in 520AD. The tomb is made of Istrian stone. It is the only one of the monuments without mosaics, but it does have some impressive friezes.
  • Basilica of Sant’Appolinare in Classe : The basilica is outside Ravenna, in the ancient Roman port of Classe, next to the archaeological park. Its apse is decorated with mosaics and contains the sarcophagi of ancient archbishops.

Roman sites in Ravenna

  • Domus dei Tappetti di Pietra : The Domus dei Tappetti di Pietra, or House of the Stone Carpets, can be visited under the Church of S. Eufemia. The floor exhibits mosaic remains from a small Byzantine palace from the 5th to 6th centuries, with incredibly well-preserved floor mosaics.
  • Classe Archaeological Park – Built by order of Emperor Augustus, Classe was the port city of Ravenna and home to the Roman fleet during its Roman period. Continuous large-scale excavation continues to offer new insights into the development and decline of Classe.

Ravenna Museums

  • National Museum : The National Museum of Ravenna is housed in the former Benedictine monastery of San Vitale. Exhibits include a collection of stone tablets, Roman and Byzantine artifacts, and frescoes from the 14th century.
  • MAR : The Ravenna Municipal Art Museum includes a collection of contemporary mosaics, medieval and modern art, and temporary art exhibits.
  • Arcivescovile Museum : The cathedral museum houses the Chapel of Sant’Andrea, works from the old cathedral and the spectacular ivory throne of Maximian made by Byzantine artists of the 6th century.
  • Dante Museum : The Dante Museum is dedicated to the poet Dante and has important works inspired by him. Dante’s Tomb was built in 1780 and contains Dante’s remains.
  • Basilica of San Francesco: Although it is neither a museum nor a monument, the Basilica of San Francesco has an interesting history, even as the site of Dante’s funeral. In addition, it has a very unusual feature: its crypt is filled with water and goldfish swim over the mosaics on the floor of the original church.

Combined ticket

A rather complicated combo ticket scheme allows access to 5 of the city’s most famous sites over a 7-day period. You have to visit other churches and sites with individual tickets, although some are free.

Cultural events in Ravenna

  • The Alighieri and Rasi theaters have music, ballet and theater performances.
  • The Ravenna Festival is held during the summer and includes opera, concerts, dance, cinema and exhibitions.
  • Mosaico di Notte , Mosaics by night, is held from Monday to Friday from June to September. There are special night tours and monument openings from 9: 00-11: 30. Guided tours, which require an admission ticket, begin at the entrance to the Domus dei Tappetti at 8:45. There is currently an English tour on Tuesdays.
  • Antiques Market is the third weekend of every month.

Ravenna Location and transport

Ravenna is located in the Emilia Romagna region of northeastern Italy (see map of Emilia Romagna) near the Adriatic coast. It is about six km from the A14 motorway, 80 km from the city of Bologna, and can be reached by train directly from Bologna, Faenza, Ferrara and Rimini on the coast.

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