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View from Ravenna

Mosaics, Duomo, Ravenna

Monastery, Ravenna



Welcome to Ravenna
From Jesse's Journeys in  Italy

Population:  134,631 (2001)
Official website:

Ravenna, in the eastern part of Emilia Romagna, has a long and storied history as the seat of empires and popes.  Once an important port, the City is now land-locked , connected to the Adriatic by a canal still very much in use.

Not surprisingly, the buildings and monuments of Ravenna span a number of styles from Gothic to Renaissance to hideous modern.  In many cases,  the earliest reveal a distinct Middle Eastern influence.  Many of the 4th to 6th century buildings, including the Galla Placidia (5th Century), Chiesa San Vitale (547 BC) Chiesa Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo (the Cathedral of Ravenna built between 370 and 390 AD), are decorated with intricate and fabulous mosaics.  The octagonal shaped Baptistry of the Cathedral, also containing fine mosaices, was builtin in the 5th Century.

Many churches in Ravenna and the immediate vicinity, including San Giovani and San Vitale incorporate Roman columns taken from the 16th century demolition of Classe, or Roman sculptures.  San Vitale, an octagonal building with a lofty terra cotta dome, is a masterpiece of Byzantine Art, featuring mosaics depicting the old and new testament.  Ravenna's National Museum of Antiquities is housed in the cloisters of the church.

The Basilica Sant'Apploninaire (535-549 AD), at the port of Classe, with its distinctive round campanile (870-878) incorporates decorative majolica.  In the city, there are also  various Venetian era palazzi, and a Venetian fortress, the Rocca Brancaleona to see.

Travelers to Ravenna should also seek out Dante's tomb (in the Chiesa San Francesco), the tomb of Theodoric, a two story structure capped by a single slab limestone dome about 36 meters in diameter, the Palace of the Archbishop, home of a major museum, and the Academy of Fine Arts.

A short history...

Like the earliest Venetians, the earliest inhabitants (of unknown origin) built stone houses on islands in marshy lagoons, and in time, the lagoons were filled and the settlement expanded.  In 89 BC, the town, hitherto ignored by the Romans, became a federated town in the Empire.  It was here, in 49 BC that Julius Caesar gathered his forces and cast the die when he decided to cross the Rubicon River.  The Emperor Augustus developed Classe, a military harbor in 45 BC, which remained  important through the Middle Ages.

In the 2nd Century AD, Emperor Trajan ordered the construction of a 70 kilometer aqueduct to provide fresh water to the City.  In 402 AD, Ravenna becamse the capital of the Roman Empire, in its long decline, when, as a defensive move, Emperor Honorius moved the capital from MilanWhen Aleric, King of the Visigoths invaded in 409, he merely by passed Ravenna on his way to Rome, which he sacked, and where he took Emperor Theodosius' daughter, Galla Placidia, hostage.

It was in the Gothic era that Ravenna gained a measure of peace and prosperity, when Christianity flourished and many of its most important buildings and monuments were built.  But, in due course, the Visigoths were displaced by the Ostrogoths under Theodoric (493 AD)and Ravenna became the Ostrogothic capital.  Ostrogothic rule lasted until Ravenna was conquered by the Byzantine Empire under Justinian in 540, and Ravenna became the capital of Byzantine administration in Italy, known as the Exarchate of Ravenna, under its governor, the Exarch.

Next in the historical line-up came the Longobards who captured, lost and recaptured Ravenna (712 - 751 AD).  By 784, however, it was conquered by the French under King Pepin on orders from Pope Stephen.  The French, under agreement with Pope Adrian I, rolled it into the Papal States in 784, but at the cost of severe looting by Charlemagne, by then Emperor of the French.

Within the Papal States Ravenna, after Rome, was the richest of all Archbishoprics and so Ravenna enjoyed an immense amount of independence ~ and conflict with Rome.  By the 12th Century, Ravenna had lost most of the surrounding territory, but was still a powerful city under a succession of rich and/or aristocratic families.  From 1441 to 1509, the city was ruled from Venice. But the Holy League sacked by the French in 1512, and Ravenna was returned to the Papal States.  There it remained until the Unification of Italy in 1861.

The city and surrounding area suffered extreme flooding in 1636, and over the next three hundred years, through draining, river diversion, land filling and canalling, Ravenna was left secure, but surrounded by the green belt which, apart from vast industrial tracks (food processing, refined petroleum, petrochemicals, furniture, cement), surrounds it still.

Naturally, as a modern Italian city, Ravenna is not defined by the quality of its ancient piles, artifacts and art.  It is a small industrial and business center, and there are fashionable shops, chi chi cafes, trendy restaurants and numerous leafy piazzi where one can while away the hours.  The City has a pleasant, vivacious quality which has endeared, and continues to endear, the traveler and tourist.

by Vian Andrews September 17, 2005



By Car: A14 from Bologn; SS309 south from Chioggia; SS16 from Ferrara
By Air:
Ravenna airport
By Rail
: Major lines from Bologna, Vencice, Ancona



Galla Palcidia Interior, Ravenna


Ravenna was a place of exile for the poet, Dante.

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