Back ] Next ]

During the decline of the Roman Empire, Ravenna became the capital of the western regions, during the reign of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora.

In 402 AD Emperor Honorius moved his court from Rome to Ravenna, in the belief that the malarial swamps surrounding it would it make it easier to defend from the invading barbarians. This, however, did not prevent the northern invaders form simply skipping Ravenna and walking into Rome in 410 AD. Honorius died in Ravenna in 423 AD - incapable of recovering his empire. The Byzantines ruled in Ravenna from 540 AD until 752, when the Lombards conquered the city. Venice ruled the city 1441-1509, until it became part of the Papal States.

Through all these changes, Ravenna acquired a wealth of buildings and works of art, becoming one of the most splendid cities in the Mediterranean  - its mosaics matched only by Istanbul's Haghia Sophia church.

Mosaic in the basilica San Vitale

Basilica San Vitale, apse mosaics

Ravenna is best known for its early Christian mosaics. The town converted to Christianity during the 2nd century AD and became a bishopric in the 4th century AD. The Ravenna mosaics were created during a period spanning the Roman and Byzantine rules  providing interesting comparisons between Roman and later Byzantine designs.

Basilica San Vitale

Basilica San Vitale

Basilica San Vitale, the apse

Basilica San Vitale
Other things to see in Ravenna

Mausoleo di Galla Placidia. Begun in 430 AD, the mausoleum was built to receive the remains of Placidia, the wife of a barbarian emperor.

Dante's tomb. Tomb of Dante Alighieri, the Florentine author of the Paradise, Purgatory and  Hell trilogy - the first books written in Italian. Dante died in Ravenna in 1321, an exile from his native Florence.
Battistero degli Ariani late 5th century baptistry - interesting mosaics in the cupola.

Nearly everything of interest is near the centre. Don't even think of taking a car into the old city: if you manage to get in, you will have trouble getting through the narrow streets and even more trouble finding parking. Everything is within walking distance, anyway.

Once you get tired of walking the streets, you can relax on the Adriatic beach (although, frankly, I would not). Ravenna is built in the Po river delta. And the biggest Italian river flows through the most industralised and intensely exploited agricultural region of Italy.
  Where to Eat?

Ristorante Free-Flow Bizantino (self-service)
Piazza A. Costa 2-6
48100 Ravenna

Located inside the Mercato Coperto (covered marketplace).

The food is decent - fast-food Italian style, prices quite low. E.g. Lit 7800 for a (thin) steak, grilled while you wait.

PS: If you are into mosaics, you may want to include Palermo in your tour plans - it has some remarkable Byzantine mosaics in the Cappella Palatina.