Ravenna Travel Guide
Italy is most often acquainted with the Roman Catholic Church – and in Ravenna, you’ll find plenty of Catholic basilicas. However, many of this city’s oldest buildings date back to the Byzantine and Early Christian era.
This is significant, as many noteworthy churches elsewhere in Italy date from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. As such, loads of structures here are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If you love ancient architecture, you’ve come to the right place.
Begin your visit to Ravenna by touring Basilica San Vitale. This church is one of Italy’s best-preserved remnants of Byzantine-era architecture. Because of this, it is one of eight buildings in Ravenna recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Within, you’ll find exquisite mosaics that its artists painted nearly 1,500 years ago. Only in Istanbul itself will you find a greater collection of Byzantine artworks.
Next, make your way over to Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. This basilica is even older than Basilica San Vitale, as it was founded in the early 6th century. As such, it has architectural characteristics of Early Christian churches.
Like Basilica San Vitale, the insides of this basilica feature scores of millennia-old mosaics. In one piece, a representation of Satan is present – some art historians believe it is the first such appearance of this figure in Christian art.
After that, make plans to tour the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. If you are knowledgeable about Late Roman history, you may know that Galla Placidia served as a regent and an influential advisor in that’s empire’s politics.
However, the mausoleum named after this empress does not contain her body. That was a mistake made by the Europeans that re-discovered this structure nearly 1,000 years later. So, the contents of this memorial’s sarcophagi remain a mystery to this day. However, the beauty of this building’s tiles are not – take lots of pictures!
The Battistero Neoniano is another can’t miss attraction in Ravenna. As this city’s most impressive baptismal font, it was once the place where grown adults came to be “reborn” into the Christian faith. To save money on admission, get a combo ticket, which includes admission to many of the attractions in this guide.
Haven’t had enough of churches on your visit to Ravenna? Then go ahead and add Basilica di San Francesco to your itinerary. This basilica dates all the way back to the mid 5th century, although the current structure was finished in the 10th century.
But as beautiful as this church is (its cistern features underwater mosaics), it is best known for being the burial place of Dante Alighieri, the author of Dante’s Inferno.
As magnificent as the churches of Ravenna are, not all of their relics remain. Over the years, some have found their way into museums like the Archiepiscopal Museum. You’ll find all manner of priceless artifacts here. These include things like a Paschal calendar (used to determine the date of Easter), ivory cravings, and of course, fragments of old mosaics.
In addition to the museum, a small chapel is also located on-site. To get in affordably, we recommend getting a combo ticket (as mentioned earlier). Lastly, note that museum curators do not permit photography, so leave yours at the hotel or holstered.
If you haven’t had your fill of mosaics while in Ravenna, check out Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra. To access it, start by visiting the Church of Sant’Eufemia. Then, descend to its basement – three metres beneath the church lies an old floor containing a massive series of mosaics.
In all, there are four distinct pieces, featuring mostly geometric shapes. However, in some spots, they feature depictions of figures like the Good Shepard.
Traveling through Ravenna with your children? Make time for a visit to Safari Ravenna. Spanning over 340,000 square metres, it differs from many zoos by offering ample roaming space for its large mammals. To view specimens like giraffes, zebras, and tigers, you’ll need to take a protected car or train.
What To Eat
At some point in your Ravenna sightseeing adventures, you’ll work up an appetite. If it is not yet lunch or dinner time, snack on some Gnocco Fritto. This is a savoury snack made by frying unleavened dough in lard. Have some with slices of local cheese or meat.
When lunch time does swing around, have a bowl of Passatelli In Brodo. This soup, which has a meat broth, features dumplings made from bread, eggs, and cheese. Its working-class origin calls for a simple table wine – don’t go overboard on your selection.
Lastly, don’t leave Ravenna without having Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese for dinner. This iconic pasta dish features a rich meaty sauce that can be done no better than here in Emilia-Romagna. Unlike versions outside Italy, you’ll get a flat noodle like fettuccine – and there’s no better way to have it.