The Mosaics and Monuments of Ravenna Italy

The Baptistry of Neon in Ravenna, Italy
••• Petar Milošević / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

Ravenna is known as the mosaic city because of the stunning 5th-6th-century mosaics that decorate the walls of its churches and monuments and because it is still one of Italy's top producers of mosaics. Ravenna has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Roman sites, museums, Dante's tomb, and many cultural events. Much of the historic center is a pedestrian zone.

Ravenna Location and Transportation

Ravenna is in the Emilia Romagna region of northeastern Italy (see Emilia Romagna map) near the Adriatic coast.

It's about six km off the A14 highway, 80 km from the city of ​Bologna, and can be reached by train directly from Bologna, Faenza, Ferrara, and Rimini on the coast.

Where to Stay in Ravenna

A Casa di Paola Suite Bed and Breakfast and Hotel Diana & Suites are two well-rated places to stay in the city center. The Dante Youth Hostel is outside Ravenna's historic center to the east at Via Nicolodi 12.

Ravenna History

From the fifth to the eighth centuries, Ravenna was the western capital of the Roman Empire and of the Byzantine Empire in Europe. Once a lagoon city, the canals were covered over in the fifteenth century during its rule by Venice and its elegant central square, Piazza del Popolo, was created. In the 1700s a new canal was built reconnecting Ravenna to the sea.

Ravenna's UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Eight of Ravenna's monuments and churches from the 5th-6th centuries are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most because of their spectacular early Christian mosaics.

  • Mausoleo di Galla Placidia: Galla Placidia was the daughter, sister, wife, and mother of Roman emperors. She had this mausoleum built in the mid-fifth century. The interior is breath-taking. The mosaics are some of the oldest in the city.
  • Battistero degli Ortodossi: This baptistery was built in the late fourth to early fifth 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 Theodora. The dome is again decorated with beautiful mosaics.
  • Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo: The basilica was originally a Palatine church. Byzantine style mosaics cover two walls reflecting both early-Catholic and Arian cult beliefs.
  • Basilica di San Vitale: The Basilica di 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.
  • 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: Teodorico, king of the Ostrogoths, had this tomb built in 520AD. The tomb is made of Istria stone. It is the only one of the monuments without mosaics, but it does have some stunning friezes.
  • Basilica of Sant'Appolinare in Classe: The basilica is outside Ravenna in the ancient Roman port of Classe by the archaeological park. Its apse is decorated with mosaics and it holds the sarcophagi of former archbishops.

Roman Sites in Ravenna

  • Domus dei Tappetti di Pietra: The Domus dei Tappetti di Pietra, House of Stone Carpets, can be visited under the Church of S. Eufemia. The floor exhibits mosaic remains of a small fifth - sixth century Byzantine palace.
  • Classe Archaelogical Park: Classe was Ravenna's port and home of the Roman fleet during its Roman period.

Ravenna Museums

  • National Museum: Ravenna's National Museum is in the ex-Benedictine Monastery of San Vitale. Exhibits include a stone tablet collection, Roman and Byzantine artifacts, and 14rh century frescoes.
  • M.A.R.: The Municipal Art Museum of Ravenna includes a collection of contemporary mosaics, medieval and modern art, and temporary art exhibits.
  • Museo Arcivescovile: The cathedral museum houses the Chapel of Sant'Andrea, works from the old cathedral, and the spectacular ivory throne of Maximian made by sixth-century Byzantine artists.
  • 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 holds Dante's remains. 

    Combination Ticket

    Discover the Treasures of Ravenna includes admission to six monuments: Mausoleo di Galla Placida, Basilica di San Vitale, Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Duomo, Battistero degli Ortodossi, and Museo Arcivescovile.

    Cultural Events in Ravenna

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