Complete Guide to Ravenna' eight UNESCO Mosaic sites!
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A Brief History of Ancient Ravenna
The history of Ravenna is a complex tale of transformation and cultural shifts over the centuries. It is believed to have ancient origins dating back to around 1400 BC. In 191 BC, it fell under Roman control, becoming a crucial naval base for the Roman Republic. The Roman Empire, founded in 27 BC, thrived for centuries, and Ravenna played a significant role within it. However, by the 5th century AD, the empire’s borders were under constant threat.
In 402 AD, Emperor Honorius made a pivotal decision to move the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Rome to Ravenna, inaugurating a period of architectural and cultural brilliance. The empire eventually fell in the West in 476 AD when the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed.
The Ostrogothic Kingdom, a Christian Germanic tribe, then took control of Ravenna. King Theodoric the Great (454–526) left a lasting legacy, overseeing the construction of impressive monuments like the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Palace of Theoderic, and the Mausoleum of Theodoric.
In 540 AD, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian rose to power and defeated the Ostrogoths, establishing Ravenna as the western capital of the Byzantine Empire, often referred to as the “Constantinople of the West.” This Byzantine rule persisted until 751 AD.
In that year, the Lombards conquered Ravenna, marking the end of Byzantine control in the city. Nevertheless, the Byzantine Empire endured until 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. Ravenna’s history reflects its strategic importance and the ever-changing tides of influence from various civilizations throughout the ages. Today, it is celebrated for its remarkable historical and artistic heritage, particularly its beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaics and monuments.
UNESCO-Listed Mosaic Sites in Ravenna
Ravenna, while not as globally famous as Venice, Florence, or Rome, holds a unique and compelling allure for travellers. Its true treasure lies in its exquisite 5th and 6th-century early Christian mosaics, which narrate a captivating story of transition and transformation.
This enchanting city boasts a mosaic heritage that is a testament to its rich history. It began with the Romans, who laid the foundations of Ravenna’s artistic legacy. The subsequent rule of the Ostrogoths introduced further layers of cultural influence, followed by the Byzantines, who left an indelible mark on the city’s artistic and architectural landscape.
Buying Tickets to enter the Mosaic Sites
You can buy a combined ticket for the following sites: San Vitale Basilica, Sant Apollinare Nuovo Basilica, Archiepiscopal Museum and St. Andrew’s Chapel, Mausoleo di Galla Placida, Battistero Neoniano. You can purchase a 3 site pass or a 5 site pass. You can either buy them online or in person at from the shops at the Archbishop’s Museum and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.
Time-slot reservations are currently essential to see the Mausoleum of Galla Placida and the Neonian Baptistry in Ravenna (https://www.ravennamosaici.it/).
Admission to the Arian Baptistery is €2.
- 3 Site Pass
- San Vitale Basilica
- Sant Apollinare Nuovo Basilica
- Archiepiscopal Museum and St. Andrew’s Chapel
- 5 Site Pass
- Mausoleum of Galla
- Neonian Baptistry
- Time-slot reservations needed!
- Mausoleo di Galla Placida
- Battistero Neoniano
- Outskirts of Ravenna
- Mausoleum of Theodoric
- Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe
Guided or Self Guided Tours of Ravenna?
This guide is all you need to discover the sites of Ravenna. A good alternative would be to book a guided tour of Ravenna. These tours typically last for about three hours and often allow you to skip the line. However, it’s important to note that some tours may not include admission fees to specific attractions, so you may need to budget around €10 per person for these additional costs.
For small groups and families, a private tour of Ravenna’s Mosaics can be a more cost-effective option. This can provide a more personalized and flexible experience during your visit to Ravenna.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
The mosaics adorning the fifth-century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia are not only the oldest in Ravenna but are also celebrated as one of the town’s artistic masterpieces. The chapel is believed to have been commissioned by Galla Placidia around AD 425, although, interestingly, it was never used as her final resting place. Among its many stunning mosaic elements, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia boasts a night sky that is often hailed as one of the most beautiful examples of celestial artistry from antiquity. This small chapel stands as a testament to the rich historical and artistic heritage of Ravenna.
The above image is the “The good Shepherd” mosaic in mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
Location: Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, Via San Vitale, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: March to November: Every day 9.00-19.00 last entry 18.45 November to March: Every day 10.00-17.00 last entry 16.45 | Price: €10.50 | Website
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Basilica of San Vitale
The sixth-century San Vitale in Ravenna is undeniably breath-taking. Its architecture and mosaics bear prominent oriental influences, setting it apart from other churches in the region. The mosaics within San Vitale are widely regarded as the largest and most significant examples of Byzantine art outside of Istanbul. This church stands as a testament to the rich blend of artistic and cultural influences that define Ravenna’s unique historical legacy.
The above image is from the Apse mosaic in basilica of San Vitale. Built 547. A.D. On mosaic from left side: St. Vitalis, archangel, Jesus Christ, second archangel and Bishop of Ravenna Ecclesius.
Location: Basilica of San Vitale, Via San Vitale, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: Every day: 9 am – 7 pm | Price: € 10.50 | Website
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Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo
The sixth-century Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna served as the palatine or court church of Theodoric, and its mosaics are among the standout attractions of a visit to Ravenna. While some mosaics in the church were either destroyed or modified to conceal those that overtly reflected Arian beliefs or praised Theodoric, there are still extensive mosaics that run the entire length of the lateral walls of the nave. These mosaics are a testament to the rich history and cultural significance of Ravenna.
The above image is the Mosaic of the holy martyrs from Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.
Location: Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Via di Roma, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: Every day: 9 am – 7 pm | Price: €10.50 | Website
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The Arian Baptistry
The sixth-century Arian Baptistery in Ravenna is an octagonal structure, and its mosaics and iconography bear a striking resemblance to those found in the older and larger Neonian Baptistery. This baptistery was constructed in accordance with the orders of King Theodoric, who ruled the Ostrogothic Kingdom. It was built with the intention of providing Arian Christians with a separate baptistery, distinct from those who followed the orthodox Christian doctrine.
The above image depicts the Baptism of Jesus and is from the Baptistery of the Arians in Ravenna.
Location: Arian Baptistery, Piazzetta degli Ariani, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: From Monday to Friday: 9 am – 12 pm Saturdays and Sundays: 9 am – 12 pm / 2 pm – 5 pm | Price: €3 | Website
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The Orthodox Baptistery, also known as the Neonian Baptistery, is a fifth-century structure and holds the distinction of being the oldest among Ravenna’s many octagonal baptisteries and religious buildings. While its mosaics underwent extensive restoration during the nineteenth century, they remain a captivating sight well worth exploring.
Adjacent to the Baptistery is the cathedral, which replaced the fifth-century basilica that was tragically destroyed in 1734. Though it is a sizable structure, the cathedral is considered to have limited artistic significance and may not be one of the most prominent attractions in Ravenna.
The above ceiling mosaic depicts the baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist, Baptistery of Neon, Ravenna.
Location: Battistero Neoniano (o degli Ortodossi), Piazza Arcivescovado, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: Until 3rd March Every day: 10 am – 5 pmFrom 4th March to 1st November Every day: 9 am – 7 pm | Price: €10.50 - The combined ticket includes the entry to Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery (**), Basilica of San Vitale, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (**) and Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel. | Website
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Chapel of Sant’Andrea
The Archbishop’s Chapel, also referred to as the Oratory of St. Andreas, is a small yet historically significant structure dating back to the early sixth century. Located within the Archiepiscopal Museum, it is one of Ravenna’s UNESCO-listed treasures. This chapel is particularly noteworthy as it holds the distinction of being the oldest surviving private Christian oratory. Its design takes the form of a Greek cross, and its vaults are adorned with intricate mosaics, showcasing the rich history of early Christian art and architecture.
The above mosaic depicts Christ as a Warrior and is from the Archbishop’s Chapel in Ravenna.
Location: Archbishop's Chapel of St. Andrew, Piazza Arcivescovado, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: Every day: 9.00 – 19.00 | Price: €10.50 - The ticket is cumulative only and includes: the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Neonian Baptistery (**), the Basilica of San Vitale, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (**), the Museum and the Archbishop's Chapel. | Website
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Mausoleum of Theodoric
The Mausoleum of Theodoric, which serves as the tomb for the Ostrogoth king who passed away in 526, is located slightly to the northeast of the old town and is situated across the railway line. This remarkable structure stands out as truly unique, devoid of style elements directly associated with either Roman or Greek architectural traditions.
The mausoleum consists of two levels, but perhaps its most awe-inspiring feature is the single, massive round stone that serves as its roof. To this day, the methods used to transport this stone from Istria and position it atop the tomb remain a mystery. The Mausoleum of Theodoric is the sole surviving tomb of a “barbarian king” from the Late Antiquity period, making it an intriguing historical and architectural relic.
Location: Mausoleum of Theodoric, Via delle Industrie, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: From Monday to Thursday 8.30am - 1.30pm (last entry at 1pm). From Friday to Sunday 8.30am - 7pm (last entry 6.30pm) | Price: €5.00 | Website
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Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe stands as the largest Late Antiquity church in Ravenna. Located approximately 8 kilometers outside the city center in Classe, this area once served as the second-largest naval base of the Roman Empire.
This brick church has preserved its original appearance since its consecration in AD 549. Its interior boasts stunning decorations, including mosaics and frescoes. Interestingly, a small mosaic within this basilica is believed to be one of the earliest depictions of Satan in Western art, adding to its historical significance.
Location: Basilica di Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Via Romea Sud, Classe, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: From Monday to Saturday: 8.30 am – 7.30 pm Sundays and holidays: 1.30 pm – 7.30 pmLast admission: 30 minutes before closing time. | Price: €5 | Website
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