Self Guided Walking Tour of Ravenna (With Maps!)
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Ravenna’s main draw for visitors is undoubtedly its exceptional collection of Byzantine mosaics, which are considered the pinnacle of Byzantine art. The city boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, all showcasing these remarkable mosaics. Ravenna’s historical importance reached its zenith during the late Roman-early Byzantine period, making it a pivotal city in Europe during that time.
Despite its historical significance and architectural treasures, Ravenna has a relatively modern and unassuming city center. This contrast can be attributed to Mussolini’s urban development efforts and the destruction caused by Allied bombing during World War II. While the city has some excellent bars and restaurants, its real gems are the churches and their exquisite mosaics.
Short History of Ravenna
Ravenna’s rise as the capital of the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century was more a result of circumstance than deliberate planning. Emperor Honorius, concerned about northern invasions, moved his court from Milan to Ravenna in around 402. The city offered natural defensive advantages, being surrounded by marshlands, and its proximity to the port of Classis, the largest Roman naval base on the Adriatic, made it strategically important. During its time as the imperial capital, Ravenna experienced a significant period of monumental embellishment.
In 476, Ravenna fell to the Goths, but this did not halt the city’s artistic development. The Ostrogoth king Theodoric, a Christian, continued to beautify the city, making it a sought-after destination in the Mediterranean world. In the mid-sixth century, Ravenna was annexed by the Byzantine Empire, becoming an exarchate (province) under the rule of Constantinople. The Byzantine rulers ushered in Ravenna’s most glorious era, striving to outshine rival cities with splendid palaces, churches, and art.
By the late eighth century, Ravenna’s golden age had waned. The city was captured by the Lombards, and over time, the Adriatic shoreline receded. To address this issue, an eleven-kilometer-long canal was constructed to connect Ravenna’s port to the sea. Subsequently, Ravenna gradually faded into obscurity, which ironically helped preserve its rich artistic heritage.
Getting to Ravenna
You have several options for getting to Ravenna:
Getting to Ravenna By Car: Ravenna is accessible by car via several highways and roads, including SS16, SP68, SP1, SR71, SS309, and others. These roads connect Ravenna to other nearby cities and regions, making it convenient to travel by car. For the more economically minded free parking is available at Parcheggio Mausoleo di Teodorico and good parking for campervans and motorhomes can be found at Parcheggio Minardi. However for convenience I would recommend parking behind the train station at Parcheggio Moro.
Getting to Ravenna By Train: The Train Station of Ravenna is located only 200 metres from the restricted traffic area of the historic centre of Ravenna. You can travel from Bologna to Ravenna in about 1.15 hours and from Rimini with in about 1h.
From the train station walk along the Giardino Speyer park. Have a look at the statue at the end of the park. A female figure, in the form of the goddess Athena, who gives a laurel wreath to a fallen soldier who represents the city of Ravenna, all surrounded by 4 lions which symbolize the crucial years of the Italian Risorgimento. At the end of the park turn right onto Via di Roma, left at Via Paolo Costa (who was a poet from Ravenna who lived between the 18th and 19th centuries) and first left again to reach the Arian Baptistery. To the right of the Arian Baptistery look for the Muro di Droctulft.
The Arian Baptistery in Ravenna holds historical and monumental significance due to its unique status as a baptistery dedicated to the Arian Christian sect that remains well-preserved from Late Antiquity.
This small brick building, constructed at the end of the 5th century AD under the patronage of Theodoric, features an octagonal plan. It is located approximately two meters below street level.
The exterior of the baptistery is divided into two sections by a string course. The upper part of the cupola is marked by arched windows, while the lower part includes four small apses.
Inside the baptistery, the main attraction is the famous mosaic depicting the Baptism of Christ. In this scene, Christ is shown immersed in the waters of the River Jordan, accompanied by St. John the Baptist and an elderly figure representing the river itself. The apostles surround this central scene, divided into two groups.
The depiction of Christ in the mosaic emphasizes his physicality. He is shown in a nude form, with meticulous attention to his corporeal features. The throne with a red drape, often interpreted as a shroud, further highlights the suffering of Jesus on the cross as a human being. The apostles, in this context, pay homage to Christ as both the Son of God and the perfect man, reflecting the doctrinal beliefs of the Arian religion.
Since 1996, the Arian Baptistery has been included in the list of UNESCO-protected monuments, acknowledging its historical and cultural significance.
Visiting the Arian Baptistery: Admission is 2 Euro. Mon – Fri 9:00 to 12:00Sat & Sun 9.00am to 12.00pm and from 2.00pm to 5.00pm
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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Piazza del Popolo
Continue to walk along Via degli Ariani as it turns to the left. Turn right onto Via Armando Diaz and walk to the Piazza del Popolo.
The most significant square in Ravenna was established during the latter half of the 15th century as part of a major reconstruction effort led by the Venetians. Its emblematic features include two columns adorned with statues of lions representing St. Mark, which are emblematic symbols of Venice. The square is surrounded by historic townhouses, some of which exhibit elements of late Venetian Gothic architecture. The ground floors of these buildings host numerous cafes and restaurants, adding to the vibrant atmosphere of the square.
Location: Piazza del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo, Ravenna Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
Cross over the square and walk alongside the Ravenna Town Hall. The small square Piazza dell’Aquila named after the day of the taking of Porta Pia and the annexation of the city of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy in September 20, 1870,. Previously it was called Piazza dell’Aquila because of the column with the crowned eagle, built in 1609. Turn right and walk up Via Giacomo Matteotti. At Piaza Andrea Costa turn left to walk along Via Camillo Benso Cavour. Turn right into Via Giuliano Argentario.
If you have not bought tickets in advance buy them at ‘The Book & Shop – Biglietti Tickets’ on your left. This gives you access to the Basilica of San Vitale, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery and the Archiepiscopal Museum.
If you have time past Basilica di San Vitale and up Via Galla Placidia. On your right is the often overlooked Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Built in the 6th century but, rebuilt in 1671, it is famous among the faithful of Ravenna for the Madonna dei Tumors to whom the Chapel to the right of the High Altar is dedicated.
The Basilica di San Vitale and the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia are located in the same grounds.
The “Mausoleum of Galla Placidia” in Ravenna is steeped in historical tradition and has long been associated with Galla Placidia, the daughter of Emperor Theodosius I and a prominent figure in the Western Roman Empire. According to tradition, this ancient structure was believed to have been constructed to house Galla Placidia’s tomb.
Galla Placidia’s life was marked by significant political influence, including her role as regent for her young son Valentinian III. Despite her historical prominence, the location of her burial has been the subject of debate. While there has been a traditional belief that she was interred in the “Mausoleum of Galla Placidia” in Ravenna, modern scholarship has raised doubts about this claim.
It is now considered more likely that Galla Placidia was not buried in Ravenna but rather in the Rotunda of St. Petronilla, located near St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Rotunda is known to have been the mausoleum for the Theodosian family, to which Galla Placidia belonged. In the months leading up to her death, she arranged for the body of Theodosius II, her brother, to be transported from Constantinople to be buried in the Rotunda.
Modern scholarly opinion suggests that the structure in Ravenna referred to as the “Mausoleum of Galla Placidia” was likely intended as an oratory rather than a mausoleum. It was originally connected to the narthex of the adjacent Santa Croce church, which is known to have been built by Galla Placidia. Therefore, it is believed that she commissioned the construction of the oratory, which bears her name, even if she was not ultimately buried there.
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 Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna is a remarkable testament to the city’s significance during the reign of Emperor Justinian. Consecrated by Archbishop Maximianus between 547 and 548 AD, it stands as a masterpiece of Early Christian and Byzantine art and holds a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1996. This basilica is highly regarded and has been recognized as “one amongst the 19 most important holy places in the world” by the Huffington Post.
The architectural marvel of San Vitale is characterized by its octagonal plan, consisting of two main components. The inner section features a dome supported by eight massive pillars adorned with marble. However, the true treasure of this basilica lies in its vibrant mosaics that adorn the walls, presbytery, and apse. These mosaics are rich in biblical, symbolic, and historical imagery.
The political significance of the mosaics is evident in the portrayal of the emperor and empress at the feet of Christ. They also hold religious importance as they reinforce the Orthodox Christian faith and mark the end of Arianism’s influence during Theodoric’s rule in the city.
In addition to the renowned mosaics, the floors of the Basilica of San Vitale conceal hidden treasures. One notable feature is the simple 8-pointed North Star motif, repeated throughout the floor. Another intriguing element is the “labirinto dell’anima” (labyrinth of the soul), embedded in the presbytery floor, right in front of the altar. This labyrinth consists of seven spirals and was once considered a symbol of sin. Journeying through the labyrinth represented a path to purification and finding one’s way out symbolized rebirth.
The Basilica of San Vitale has a rich cultural heritage as well. Since the eighteenth century, it has been a venue for oratorios, sonatas, symphonies, and motets. In 1961, the basilica became the permanent home of the International Organ Music Festival, Italy’s first and oldest festival of its kind.
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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National Museum of Ravenna
The National Museum of Ravenna is situated within the monumental complex of San Vitale and holds a significant collection of artifacts and artworks. Its origins date back to the 17th century when it was established. Over time, the museum has amassed an extensive array of archaeological findings, including funerary steles, Roman epigraphs, and various minor art collections.
A recent addition to the museum includes seven rooms dedicated to a new exhibition. The first four rooms showcase important regional paintings, such as Luca Longhi’s “Resurrection,” which is on loan from the Bologna National Art Gallery. In the remaining three rooms, the focus shifts to illustrated ceramics, archaic majolica, and devotional objects, which are given more prominence through updated display cabinets and improved lighting.
The museum boasts a remarkable collection of items, including Oriental marble capitals, decorated sarcophagi, and artifacts from the 5th and 6th centuries. Some of the most prestigious pieces have origins in the Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments recognized as World Heritage sites. Notable items include the transennas and cross from San Vitale, as well as preparatory drawings for the mosaic of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.
On the ground floor, visitors can view the remains of the “Porta Aurea,” a monumental gate from the southern entrance to the Roman city dating back to 44 AD, which was unfortunately demolished in 1582.
The upper floor of the museum features sections dedicated to archaeology and decorative arts. Here, visitors can explore noteworthy examples of Byzantine and Constantinopolitan sculptures, architectural fragments, and mosaics.
Additionally, the museum houses a significant 14th-century cycle of frescoes, a masterpiece of the Giotto school, created by Pietro da Rimini. These frescoes were originally part of the ancient Church of Santa Chiara in Ravenna and have been preserved within the museum’s collection.
Location: National Museum of Ravenna, Via San Vitale, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 8.30 am – 7.30 pm Wednesday: 2 pm – 7.30 pm Saturday and Sunday: 8.30 am – 2 pmEvery 1st Sunday of the month: 8.30 am – 7.30 pm (free admission) | Price: €7 | Website
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Domus of the Stone Carpets
As you leave the Basilica di San Vitale entrance turn right and walk down Via San Vitale. Continue as it turns to the left. At the next junction to your right you will see Porta Adriana, the origins of the first Adriana gate are uncertain, but it is already present in 11th century maps that place it adjacent to a canal coming from the Po river. In 1545 it was moved and rebuilt by Cardinal Legato Capoferro, and was rebuilt in 1583 in its current form. Turn left and walk down Via Camillo Benso Cavour, turning first right into Via Gian Battista Barbiani, Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra is on your left.
The Domus of the Stone Carpets, located just a few steps from the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, is a significant archaeological site discovered in recent decades. This historical site, inaugurated in 2002 by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has received notable recognition, including the 2004 Bell’Italia Prize and the 2017 Francovich Prize. It preserves more than four hundred square meters of exquisite polychrome mosaics and marbles, originating from a significant building complex dating back to the 5th-6th century AD.
To visit the Stone Carpets, often referred to as such by Federico Zeri, visitors must pass through the small eighteenth-century church of Santa Eufemia, which serves as the entrance to the Domus. They then descend into a modern underground room. Due to the complex archaeological context that emerged during excavations, the decision was made to enhance and make accessible the rooms and their splendid mosaic floors related to the late antique residential complex.
During the tour, visitors can marvel at magnificent mosaics, featuring figurative and polychrome surfaces created with great technical skill. Particularly notable is the mosaic known as the “Dance of the Geniuses of the Seasons,” which forms the central part of a large mosaic floor. This mosaic portrays a rare representation of the Seasons dancing in a circle to the sound of a syrinx. Another remarkable mosaic is the “Good Shepherd,” depicted following the iconographic pattern of Orpheus. While lacking some specific elements of a sacred representation, it may still carry Christian cultic connotations.
The tour route winds through the archaeological area via an elevated walkway that runs along the walls of the building complex. From this vantage point, visitors can closely admire the mosaics that once adorned the floors. As you progress from one room to another, you’ll encounter numerous floor mosaics featuring an exceptional array of decorative motifs. These mosaics are found in various areas of the residence, including the reception room where guests were welcomed, as well as corridors, courtyards, and nymphaeums.
In the Hall of the Hundred Priests, located adjacent to the entrance, visitors can view a 3D reconstructive film that faithfully recreates the original appearance of the Domus of the Stone Carpets. This film also documents the history of the discovery and the archaeological excavation process.
Location: Chiesa di Sant'Eufemia-Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra Via Gian Battista Barbiani, 16 48121 Ravenna RA Italy | Hours: Every day: 10 am – 6.30 pm | Price: €4 | Website
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Continue along Via Gian Battista Barbiani and first left down Via Massimo D’Azeglio. Afdter a few juctions you will pass Palazzo Rasponi dalle Teste, a 17th century built by the bishop of Forlì and the Piazza John Fitzgerald Kennedy, which was the old market square. Turn right in the far corner of the square and the Battistero Neoniano will be on your left.
The Orthodox Baptistery, also known as the Neonian Baptistery, is located next to the Cathedral in Ravenna. It serves as a symbolic and beautiful connection between the Duomo and Arcivescovado Squares. This Baptistery is set within a well-maintained garden, providing a serene and visually pleasing space that many locals enjoy strolling through.
During the summer, on the Feast of St. John (the original title of the parish of the Cathedral), an open-door Holy Mass is celebrated inside the Baptistery. This invitation encourages people to enter and experience the beauty of the ritual in this remarkable setting. Additionally, the Baptistery remains a place where baptisms are performed. If you’re fortunate, you may have the opportunity to witness a baptism in this symbolically significant location.
As you explore the Baptistery, you might find yourself constantly looking upward, captivated by the dome’s beauty. You might also notice a figure beside Jesus and St. John in the depiction of the Baptism of Christ and wonder about the identity of this third character. This curiosity adds to the intrigue and mystique of the Baptistery, making it an even more captivating place to visit in 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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Archiepiscopal Museum & St. Andrew's Chapel
The Archiepiscopal Museum is signposted from the entrance to the Battistero Neoniano.
The Archiepiscopal Museum, established in the 17th century, holds great historical significance in connection with the ancient Basilica of Ursus. Unfortunately, in the 1740s, Archbishop Niccolò Farsetti ordered the demolition of the Basilica of Ursus. However, this museum in Ravenna stands as a testament to the town’s rich heritage.
The museum boasts an impressive collection of artworks that once belonged to the ancient city cathedral. Among these treasures, the ivory throne of Maximian is a standout piece. This intricately carved ivory work, created by Byzantine artists in the 6th century, is renowned as one of the most famous examples of carved ivory art in history.
Another captivating feature within the museum is the St. Andrew’s Chapel, an early Christian oratory with a Greek cross plan. It was constructed between 494 and 519 CE and is adorned with exquisite mosaics. The mosaics in this chapel offer visitors a glimpse into the remarkable artistic and historical heritage of Ravenna.
Location: P.za Arcivescovado, 1, 48121 Ravenna RA, 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.
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Basilica of San Francesco
From the entrance to the Archiepiscopal Museum cross over the Giardini di Piazza Arcivescovado to the east and walk up Via Ginanni. Turn to the right to enter the Piazza Caduti Per la Liberta and take second left, by the tourist office and you should see the Basilica di San Francesco on your right.
The remains of the old church, originally built in the fifth century under the direction of Archbishop Neon, are mostly located underground, with the original floor plan being approximately three and a half meters lower than the current street level. There is a window beneath the main altar that provides a glimpse into the tenth-century crypt, which is oratory-shaped and supported by pillars. This crypt was designed to house the relics of Bishop Neon and, while its floor remains submerged in water, visitors can still observe the beautiful mosaic fragments from the original church.
The square bell tower, standing at almost 33 meters in height, dates back to the ninth century and is strikingly similar to the bell tower of St. John the Evangelist. In his 1923 “Guide to Ravenna,” Corrado Ricci noted the quality of restoration work done on the steeple during those years. However, he lamented the replacement of the “stern and powerfully sounding” seventeenth and eighteenth-century bells with others that had a more “shrilling” sound.
The basilica itself has undergone several renovations and restorations throughout its history. It was essentially rebuilt in 1793 under the direction of Pietro Zumaglini. Originally dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul, it later came to be known as St. Peter’s Basilica. In 1261, it was given to the Franciscans along with the surrounding houses, gardens, and porches, leading to a name change to St. Francis. The Franciscan friars temporarily abandoned the basilica in 1810 but returned permanently in 1949.
The Crypt of San Francesco, dating back to the 10th century, lies hidden beneath the Basilica di San Francesco. Over time, the crypt has been transformed into an unusual goldfish pond due to the encroaching waters from the surrounding marshland. While the basilica itself is renowned for its architectural splendor and has earned recognition from UNESCO for its cultural significance, the crypt beneath tells a unique story.
The crypt features a vaulted ceiling and is believed to house the remains of Bishop Neon, albeit permanently submerged under about a foot of water. The mosaic tiles that adorn the crypt’s floor are said to cover the bishop’s resting place. Despite efforts to keep the water out, preservationists have come to accept the crypt’s watery fate. Instead of trying to pump the water away, they have allowed goldfish to thrive in the submerged burial chamber. As a result, the crypt is now home to goldfish, and visitors often leave behind coins, which catch the dim light and resemble sunken treasure amidst the historical surroundings of the Crypt of San Francesco.
Location: Basilica of Saint Francis, Piazza San Francesco, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: Monday to Friday: 7 am – 12 pm and 3 pm – 6 pm Saturdays and Sundays: 7 am – 6.30 pm | Price: Free
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Dante Alighier's Tomb
As you exit the Basilica of San Francesco turn right into what looks like a small park, walk through it and turn right.
Ravenna indeed holds the honour of being the final resting place of the great poet Dante Alighieri. Dante died in Ravenna in 1321 while he was in exile, just 90 miles from his native Florence. Due to political reasons and his works often containing references to powerful individuals, he was no longer welcome in Florence. As a result, he was interred in Ravenna.
However, the story takes an interesting turn when, a couple of centuries later, Florence decided they wanted Dante back and built a beautiful memorial for his remains. In 1519, Pope Leo X ordered Dante’s bones to be transferred to Florence, but this papal order was refused. Instead, an empty coffin was sent back to Florence. It was discovered that the Franciscan monks who were entrusted with Dante’s remains had secretly removed them from the tomb and hidden them in their monastery.
The whereabouts of Dante’s remains remained a mystery for centuries until 1865 when the hidden bones were discovered during some renovations, almost 350 years after they had been quietly relocated.
Dante’s mausoleum in Ravenna is a simple marble structure that houses his tomb. It stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the poet. It may indeed be more fitting to find Dante in the quiet streets of Ravenna, where he can rest peacefully without the hustle and bustle of too many tourists.
Location: Dante Alighieri's tomb, Via Dante Alighieri, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: From 1st November to 31st March Every day: 10 am – 6 pmFrom 1st April to 31st October Every day: 10 am – 7 pm1st January: 1 pm – 6 pm | Price: Free | Website
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Museo Dante, Ravenna
From the tomb walk down Via Dante Alighieri and the Museo Dante is on your right.
The Museo Dante is housed within the Ancient Franciscan Cloisters and occupies the first floor. It is situated in the four wings that face inward towards Dante’s Cloister, which is adjacent to Dante’s tomb on the outside.
This convent complex is owned by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ravenna and also accommodates the Library and the Dante Centre of the Friars Minor Conventual.
The museum’s origins date back to 1921 when it was established as the Museo Dantesco, conceived by Corrado Ricci, a prominent Ravenna citizen. Initially, its purpose was to preserve Dante-related memorabilia, including plaques and objects contributed from around the world during the celebrations of 1908 and 1921. Over the years, the museum has undergone various renovations, with the most recent remodeling completed in 2021, coinciding with the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death.
Location: Museo Dante, Via Dante Alighieri, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: From Tuesday to Sunday: 10 am – 5.30 pm | Price: € 6
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Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo
Turn right as you exit Museo Dante and walk down Via Dante Alighieri. Turn right into Via Angelo Mariani and third right into Via di Roma. Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo will be on your left.
The Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo is indeed a remarkable historical and architectural treasure located in Ravenna, Italy. It was founded in 504 AD by Theodoric the Great, who was the king of the Ostrogoths and ruled Ravenna during the sixth century. The basilica is renowned for its intricate and stunning mosaics that adorn its walls.
These mosaics are a significant part of the UNESCO World Heritage listing known as the Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna, which includes eight important sites in the city. Among these sites, you mentioned the nearby Mausoleum of Theodoric, which is another architectural wonder.
It’s important to note that the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo should not be confused with the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe, which is located about five kilometers to the south of Ravenna. Both basilicas are exceptional examples of early Christian and Byzantine architecture and art and are worth visiting for anyone interested in history and art.
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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Basilica di San Giovanni Evangelista
Retrace your steps to Via Angelo Mariani and turn right into it. Turn left into the park and the Basilica di San Giovanni Evangelista.
The Basilica di San Giovanni Evangelista was originally known as Santi Nicandro and Marciano Martiri, was initially located near the coastline and likely appeared much taller in the past. Like many other buildings in Ravenna, it has been affected by subsidence, causing a gradual sinking of the land. From a visual perspective, the basilica must have been quite imposing, especially for those approaching from the sea, serving as a prominent feature in Ravenna’s skyline.
The church’s origins are rooted in myth and legend. Empress Galla Placidia ordered its construction after 424 AD as a fulfilment of a vow she made during a severe storm at sea while returning from Constantinople following the death of her brother Honorius. She vowed to build a church in gratitude for her safe escape from the shipwreck, a promise she kept upon her return to the city. This story is recorded in the Liber Pontificalis of the Ravenna church and inscribed on the entrance portal.
Architecturally, the basilica originally had an entrance through a quadriportico, which no longer exists. In its place, there is now a charming garden accessed through a beautiful 14th-century Gothic-style portal. Inside, the church follows the typical basilica layout with three naves.
The walls of the basilica still feature fragments of the ancient mosaic floor dating back to the 13th century. These mosaics are adorned with depictions of medieval courts, stories of knights and ladies, fantastical animals, and connections to the crusades, particularly the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204 AD).
The adjacent bell tower, built around the 10th century, remains in its original state. Over the centuries, the basilica has undergone various restoration efforts, especially after the extensive damage caused by aerial bombings in 1944. These bombings resulted in the destruction of not only the frescoes from the 12th to 14th centuries but also the apse mosaics.
Location: Basilica di San Giovanni Evangelista, Viale Luigi Carlo Farini, Ravenna, Province of Ravenna, Italy | Hours: FROM 1st APRIL: From Tuesday to Sunday: 10.00 am – 1.00 pm / 3.00 pm – 6.00 pmSPECIAL OPENINGS Monday 10th and 24th April, 1st May: 10.00 am – 1.00 pm / 3.00 pm – 6.00 pm | Price: Free
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