Ravenna: the city of mosaics

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Located in the plain of Romagna, near the Adriatic Sea, Ravenna is a world famous tourist destination. Classe, the port of Ravenna, was during the Roman Empire the main strategic port in the eastern Mediterranean. Ravenna was the seat of the Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D., the seat of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths in the sixth century A.D. and later the Byzantine capital of Italy until the eighth century A.D. During these periods the city was enriched with precious religious and secular monuments. Ravenna has a unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments.

The following Christian monuments of Ravenna, built between the fifth and sixth centuries AD, were added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites: the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Orthodox Baptistry also called Baptistry of Neon, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Basilica of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. All these buildings show great artistic skill, and include a wonderful mixture of Greek-Roman and Christian art and Eastern and Western styles.


The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a small cross-shaped building which is located near the Basilica of San Vitale. It was built in the second quarter of the fifth century A.D. as a satellite building of the church of Santa Croce, being located on the south side of the Basilica that the empress had built previously. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is one of the most extraordinary monuments of late antiquity come down to us, both for its architecture and for the decorations. Built in the shape of a Latin cross (m. 12.75 x 10.25), at the intersection of the two arms of the cross structure is a dome made of bricks and hidden from the outside by a small quadrangular tower. The interior of the mausoleum is richly decorated: in its bottom is covered with yellow marble panels, while the top is completely covered with mosaics. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Orthodox Baptistry also called Baptistry of Neon is one of the oldest monuments of the historic center of Ravenna, it was built in the fifth century A.D. The building has an octagonal structure and the interior of the dome is beautifully decorated with mosaics of the fifth century A.D. This was the baptistery of Latin faithful of Orthodox worship as opposed to the Arian Baptistery of the Goths of Arian worship.


The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo was built at the behest of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric in the sixth century. The church is divided into three naves by columns with arches and is characterized by magnificent mosaics. The mosaics cover the two walls of the nave.


The Arian Baptistery also dates to the late fifth century beginning of the sixth century A.D. and was built by Ostrogoths King Theodoric. This octagonal building preserves inside the dome a precious mosaic depicting the baptism of Christ and the twelve apostles.


The Archbishop’s Chapel is the smallest of the marvelous buildings decorated with mosaics of Ravenna. The chapel was built between the end of the fifth century and the beginning of the sixth century A.D. during the reign of Theodoric. The building has a cross plan and the walls and ceiling covered with beautiful mosaics.


The most majestic monument of Ravenna is undoubtedly the Basilica of San Vitale. The church has an octagonal shape and is constructed of large flat bricks (48 x 4 cm), joined together with a 4 cm layer of lime, a technique typical of all the buildings erected during the reign of Justinian. The church was consecrated by Maximian in 547 or 548. The San Vitale church is a unique example of Byzantine art; primarily because it combines in its architecture the most original eastern and western styles, and secondly because its mosaics are complete and represent with great clarity the ideology and religiosity of Justinian period, that historians have described as the first golden age of Byzantine art. The Basilica of San Vitale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Near the Basilica of San Vitale is the famous Mausoleum of Galla Placida.


The tomb of Dante Alighieri, is a small building in neoclassical style, in which are the remains of Dante Alighieri. Every year, the second week of September, on the anniversary of the poet’s death, a ceremony is celebrated with the oil offered by the municipality of Florence. The poet exiled from Florence, after many wanderings, reached Ravenna towards 1317. In Ravenna was well received by Guido Novello da Polenta, lord of the city. In September 1321, in the Church of San Francesco was celebrated his solemn funeral.

Church of San Francesco, Ravenna: The church was built in the fifth century A.D. and it was initially dedicated to the Apostles, and then to San Pietro Maggiore but today nothing remains of the original church, because in the tenth century it was completely rebuilt, in this period was also rebuilt the square bell tower. The church is very simple. Here in 1321 was celebrated the funeral of Dante Alighieri, who was buried near the church.

Dante Museum of Ravenna: Located near the tomb of Dante, the museum is divided into sections that collect works inspired by the work of the Poet: illustrations, paintings, medals and coins.


The Mausoleum of Theodoric is about 2 km from the city center and was built in the sixth century A.D. The building is built in blocks of Istrian stone and is topped by a roof  in a single block of Istrian stone of the size of more than 10 meters in diameter and more than 3 meters high.


Just 5 km from the center of the city of Ravenna is another masterpiece of Christian art of the sixth century A.D.:  the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.