Ravenna, once the capital of the Byzantine Empire is today the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. The city is located near the Ronco and Montane River confluence, about 10 km from the Adriatic Sea. It is connected to the Adriatic Sea via the Candiano Canal. Ravenna is also a city of historical importance as it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire till the 5th century A.D when the kingdom collapsed. The Ostrogothics and the Byzantines then ruled over the city until 751. With the invasion of the Franks in the 8th century, Ravenna rose to power as the Kingdom of the Lombards.
The earliest inhabitants of Ravenna are believed to be the Etruscans followed by the Gauls. This has led to the speculation that Ravenna coincides with Rasenna, the term used by Etruscans to refer to them. Once the city came under Roman control in 191 B.C, it soon rose to fame as an important port site on the north eastern coast of Italy. Besides, the construction of the port of Classis by Roman emperor Augustus near the city also led to Ravenna’s upliftment as a prominent base for Rome’s naval fleet in those times. The city passed through several powerful hands before it proclaimed its union with the kingdom of Sardinia in 1859, which then became the kingdom of Italy in 1861.
Today, the agricultural and industrial city of Ravenna has grown to become an important tourist destination. The city is popular for its 1500 year old churches and amazing mosaics that retell history. The closest airport is about 20 km from Ravenna in the town of Forli. There are bus services from almost all nearby towns to Ravenna. There is also a train station in Ravenna with main lines to Bologna and Rimini. The city is also easily reachable by car. You just have to follow the sign posts! However once you reach the town you have to be careful as the back streets are small and narrow, unsuited for large and heavy vehicles. And since there are multiple entrances to Ravenna, it’s better to get hold of a town map before getting to town.
The town has a rich collection of churches and mosaics dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries in addition to other mesmerizing locations. Eight of Ravenna’s monuments are even marked by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. The Baptistery of Neon, Archiepiscopal Chapel, Mausoleum of Theoderic, and Basilica of San Vitale are a few among them. These buildings are a wonderful combination of Greco-Roman tradition, Christian iconography and oriental and Western styles. Battistero degli Ariani, another Heritage Site is a breathtaking dome mosaic depicting the baptism of Christ. In fact it is the only UNESCO site you have a free entry! The 5th century architecture and 13th century mosaic of the Crusades at the San Giovanni Evangelista puts one in awe.
No matter how uninterested you are, Ravenna’s gold, sapphire and emerald masterpieces of the ancient centuries will leave you struggling for proper adjectives. Ravenna is also home to Dante’s tomb which is less than a kilometre walk from the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo. Other attractions include the church of St. John the Evangelist erected by Galla Placidia, the then Empress and most powerful woman of Rome, St. Francis Basilica, the church of Giovanni Battista constructed in Baroque style, the Communal Gallery exhibiting the works of Romagnoli painters, the Brancaleone Castle that was once a part of the city walls and the National Museum. The Museum houses important classical and Early Christian antiquities including inscriptions, ceramics, ivories and sarcophagi. Make sure you also visit the little pile of rubble where local residents used to hide their urns during World War ii to prevent it from getting damaged.
Ravenna is also the seat of several cultural fairs and festivals. The Ravenna festival held annually during summer features opera, concerts, dance, cinema and exhibitions. Other events include Mosaico di Notte (Mosaics by Night) held from June to September and the Antiques Market organized on the third weekend of every month. You can stay at La Reunion or the San Vitale inn, two highly rated hotels in the city centre. Ostello Galleti Abbiosi, a 18th century palace of a noble family also takes in guests, giving you an opportunity to taste royalty. Ravenna is also the best place to taste the famously delicious food of the Emilia-Romagna region. There are also many small pizzerias and trattorias in the town that serve excellent food at cheap rates.
In short, Ravenna is an independent small world rich in relics and legends that show and tell stories of the past. Ravenna is a city that flourished because of its art and architecture. Dante described its monuments as a ‘symphony of colour’. Lord Byron added further fame to Ravenna when stayed stayed in the city for a couple of years before decamping to Greece. Though the local economy has today become an industrial town, the centre for bicyclists and business endeavours, people still look at it as a historical sight filled with ancient cultures and traditions. A pinnacle of civilization in that age, Ravenna was a light in Europe’s Dark Ages.