This was my second time in Ravenna and I would go there again, if I had an opportunity. Although this is not a top 5 or even 10 tourist destination this town is still relatively full of tourists. Why? Because it is fascinating. I see at least one big reason for that: ART.
If you’re interested in history of European art, at least a bit, it is very likely you studied it one style after another, chronologically. As a result of this process your head is full of ‘typical examples’ of particular styles. You’re able to differentiate renaissance style palace from an ancient basilica or art nouveau house. What is most fascinating, however, is the process of transition from one style to another and studies on the precursors’ works of art. I grew up convinced that the process of transition is much more fascinating than the pure style itself and this is one of the reasons why I consider Ravenna so fascinating.
Being an ancient city, which is nothing special in Italy, Ravenna hosted a capital of Western Roman Empire for about 70 years, and after the empire collapsed it still played an important role on the peninsula (surviving the invasions the Ostrogoths and the conquest by the Franks). Its complex history of domination, glory and decline is seen through the works of art. This is one of few places where well preserved ancient buildings are visited by the tourists along the early Christian buildings and medieval ones. The famous mosaics is a unique example of ancient technique and motives derived from the emperor times mixed with early Christian themes.
Ravenna is a tourists’ friendly town. There is a integrated system of tickets called Opera di Religione della Diocesi di Ravenna which means that for 9,50 EUR you’re entitled to enter 5 most important sites: Museo Arcivescovile, Battistero Neoniano, Basilica di S. Vitale, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia and my favorite Basilica di S. Apolinare Nuovo. The ticket is valid for 7 days so if you plan to stay in Ravenna longer than one day you are very welcome to do so. All UNESCO World Heritage sites are located within a walking distance plus the streets in the city center are full of bars and restaurants so you won’t be starving in a meantime.
The Tomb of Dante
While the tomb of this famous poet is surprisingly modest it is still worth to pay a short visit. Inside of this tiny vault you will find a simple tombstone with his name on it and an olive lamp. The lamp is a fascinating example of tradition and memory: since 1780 the oil to this lamp is being provided by the city of Florence– the place of birth and live of this exceptional artist.
It is convenient to start your visit from Basilica di S. Vitale and Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, which are located in the same garden. The main vault of basilica takes you back in time. The splendor of mosaics, its colors and excellent condition despite of 15 centuries passed is hard to describe. Equally fascinating is the external of basilica: when standing in the garden you watch the church from the back and the ancient mausoleo. Currently due to the technical reasons the visit in mausoleo is limited to 5 minutes, however, there is no strict control over time spent inside so no worries. On the other hand, however, it is so stuffy inside that I doubt if you’re able to stay longer inside. Well known mosaic of Good Shepherd is over the entrance.
Following a pocket map received with the tickets walk to the Battistero Naoniano and Museo Arcivescovile. I personally would stay longer in the baptistery rather than in museum but it all depends on your own preferences. Being the oldest building in Ravenna it is also one of the most beautiful mosaics in town.
When you continue your walk towards Basilica di S. Apolinare Nuovo don’t miss the Tomb of Dante Alighieri (no surprises here: it is located on the via Alighieri).
My favorite place in Ravenna is the Basilica di S. Apolinare Nuovo. Mainly because of its classical 3 naves construction and apse with a hemispherical semi-dome. This basilica is very harmonious and full of light, which I find beautiful. The two lines of saints with famous Three Kings at the front is stunning. Sitting there for hours, watching the figures of man and woman dressed in white and finding these tiny little differences is my idea for a perfect afternoon. The story continues here…
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