Welcome to Ravenna

For mosaic lovers, Ravenna is an earthly paradise. Spread out over several churches and baptisteries around town is one of the world’s most dazzling collections of early Christian mosaic artwork, enshrined since 1996 on Unesco’s World Heritage list. Wandering through the unassuming town centre today, you’d never imagine that for a three-century span beginning in AD 402, Ravenna served as capital of the Western Roman Empire, chief city of the Ostrogoth Kingdom of Italy and nexus of a powerful Byzantine exarchate. During this prolonged golden age, while the rest of the Italian peninsula flailed in the wake of Barbarian invasions, Ravenna became a fertile art studio for skilled craftsmen, who covered the city’s terracotta brick churches in heart-rendingly beautiful mosaics.

Ravenna is like no other place in Italy, and the magnificence of its mosaics will leave you breathless – and with a stiff neck. Although Ravenna’s port was already important as the base of the Roman Adriatic fleet, it reached even greater heights when Emperor Honorius moved his court here from Milan in 402, making Ravenna the capital of the entire Western Roman Empire. Honorius and his sister, Galla Placidia, embarked on a building program and established the city as a center of mosaic art to embellish their new churches. It continued as the seat of sixth-century king Theodoric the Great, who had been brought up in Constantinople, and later, the seat of a Byzantine governor, so the artistic influences here were heavily Byzantine. Intricate mosaic work achieved some of its greatest heights here.

An astonishing amount of exquisite mosaics survive, most of them in seven buildings that form, along with the Tomb of Theodoric, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The greatest danger is becoming overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of mosaics, so that by the time you reach the last places, you simply cannot absorb any more. For this reason, it’s a good idea to plan your visit over two separate days. But however you see Ravenna, you’ll agree that it is unique among all the places to visit in Italy.

Ravenna, a small city with a glorious past, is quietly located on the Adriatic Sea in northeastern Italy. Ravenna’s most popular sights are UNESCO World Cultural Heritage listed monuments and mosaics dating from the fifth and sixth century when the town served as capital of the (Western) Roman Empire. Ravenna has eight sites on the heritage list, each with some of the best Late Antiquity or Byzantine mosaics in existence. Further sights in Ravenna include Dante’s tomb, a lovely old town, museums, medieval defenses and pleasant restaurants but the wall mosaics really are what make Ravenna so special.

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