Mosaics and Monuments in Ravenna, Italy

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

Ravenna is known as the city of mosaics because of the stunning 5th- and 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, 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.

Ravenna History

Ravenna was a Roman city that rose to prominence is the fifth to the eighth centuries, when it 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 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 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 Empress 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.
  • 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, or House of Stone Carpets, can be visited under the Church of S. Eufemia. The floor exhibits mosaic remains of a small 5th- to 6th-century Byzantine palace, with incredibly well-preserved floor mosaics.
  • Classe Archaeological Park: Built on orders from Emperor Augustus, Classe was Ravenna's port city and home of the Roman fleet during its Roman period. A large-scale, ongoing excavation continues to offer new discoveries about the development and decline of Classe.

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. 
  • Basilica of San Francesco: Though it's neither a museum or a monument, the Basilica of San Francesco has an interesting history, including as the site of Dante's funeral. Plus it has a very unusual feature: its crypt is filled with water, and goldfish swim over the floor mosaics of the original church.

Combination Ticket

A rather complicated combined ticket scheme permits access to 5 of the city's most famous sites over a period of 7 days. Other churches and sites have to be visited with individual tickets, though some are free of charge.

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.

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.