History, Mosaics and Listed Buildings

Ravenna is an ancient city – probably founded by the Etruscans before the birth of Rome – which was three times capital: in 402 AD. of the Western Roman Empire; from 476 of the Roman-Barbaric Kingdoms; from 540 of the Byzantine possessions in Italy.

Of this great historical period remain eight monuments, declared by UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, a small and sober brick building in the shape of a Latin cross, that hides inside the astonishing richness of its mosaics.

The Orthodox Baptistery, or Neoniano, which houses inside the dome marble inlays, stuccoes and the splendid polychromy of its mosaics.

The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and the Baptistery of the Arians, erected for the practice of the Aryan cult and by the will of King Theodoric at the beginning of the sixth century, and then reconsecrated to the Catholic cult.

The Mausoleum of Theodoric, an imposing two-storey building with a circular plan. It was built with blocks of Istrian stone, and covered by a single boulder with a diameter of just over 10 meters and weighing over 300 tons, perhaps one of the largest monoliths in the world used as a dome.

The Archiepiscopal Chapel, or Chapel of Saint Andrew, whose mosaic cycles propose the theme of the struggle against the Arian heresy, is the only orthodox monument built during the reign of Theodoric.

The Church of San Vitale is one of the highest creations of early Christian art in Italy and is emblematic of the imperial power of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. The octagonal church has a rich alternation of architectural volumes on the outside, while inside it is enriched by the precious mosaic and marble covering.

The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe: the interior is solemn and grandiose and among the mosaics of the apse basin stands Saint Apollinare, patron saint of the city.

All these monuments are located in the old town, except the Mausoleum of Theodoric, which is located at the access of the city coming from Venice, and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, located 5 km south of the city, close to the ancient Roman-Byzantine port.

Near Via Cura you can also visit the “Domus of the Stone Carpets”, with floor mosaics from the Roman and Byzantine periods.

In the center of the city there are also two Museums:

The MAR, Museum of Art of the City, formerly the Municipal Art Gallery, located in the 16th century Loggetta Lombardesca. The Museum promotes cultural activity, combining the conservation and enhancement of heritage, a manifold cultural production, also thanks to the International Center for Documentation on the Mosaic, and the exhibition activity, which leads to disclosure the results of the most advanced scientific research. La Loggetta also houses the famous statue of Guidarello Guidarelli and an important collection, recently reordered, of mosaics from the fifties, taken from drawings (which are also present in the collection) by the best contemporary artists.

The National Museum, an imposing building including the Cloisters of the adjacent Church of San Vitale, which preserves important archaeological finds from the area, collections of coins, icons, ceramics and ancient weapons, and the “Santa Chiara Sails” important frescoes of the Giotto school.