Ravenna

Overview

Introduction

Ravenna, Italy, is not to be missed. This city on the Adriatic—115 mi/186 km south of Venice and equidistant from Venice and Florence—is known for the wonderful mosaic decorations of its churches and tombs, relics from its Byzantine past.

In particular, the fifth-century mosaics at the peaceful and lovely Tomb of Galla Placidia (daughter of Emperor Theodosius I) are Italy's most beautiful. Perhaps the most treasured are the ethereal blue and gold mosaics that fill the vaulted ceiling, said to be the inspiration for Cole Porter's "Night and Day." There are eight sites scattered around the town. Information about the mosaics is detailed on the website http://www.ravennamosaici.it.

The Basilica of the Church of San Vitale's sober exterior belies an ornate interior of sixth-century jewel-colored mosaics, some of the finest examples of Byzantine art in the world. The Baptistery (Battistero Neoniano) and the Basilica of Sant'Apollinaris are also among the most interesting in all of Europe. They are famous for their striking and varied colors, as well as for their symbolic meanings (Dante mentioned them in The Divine Comedy). The city produces modern mosaic artists, too, at Ravenna's School of Mosaicists.

Be sure to see Dante's tomb, located in the Church of San Francesco on Via d'Alighieri 9. The poet spent the last years of his life in Ravenna after being driven out of Florence. For years Florence tried to acquire his remains, but Ravenna steadfastly refused. It is a pilgrimage site for many, including the Florentines who go every year to donate oil for the lamp in his sepulchre. The city honors him with a literary and theatrical festival in September.

A stop in Ravenna can be worked into any trip that includes nearby Bologna, Rimini, San Marino or Urbino.

For families with children there is a great amusement park just south of Ravenna, at the Lido di Classe station. http://www.mirabilandia.it.

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