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Discover Ravenna

Food & Wine | Museums | Art | Escapes

Tiny Ravenna is mighty Ravenna when it comes to UNESCO World Heritage Sites: It has eight (indicated by the abbreviation “WHS” in the copy that follows), a legacy of its history as the last capital of the Roman Empire (see whc.unesco.org ).

Ravenna is about 45 miles from Bologna by car and about 80 minutes by train. Upon arrival, stop at the visitor information office (Via Salara, 8) for a map and the key to a free bicycle for the day.

The center is traffic-free and level, perfect for cycling. 

 

TOP SIGHTS

 

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia The tomb of the Empress Galla Placidia, the last ruler of the Western Roman Empire, contains the oldest mosaics in Ravenna, dating from around 425. The cupola has a breathtakingly deep blue, starry sky, and the “drinking doves” in the lunettes may be the city’s most famous mosaic symbols. Only missing is the Empress herself, who was likely buried in Rome, where she died in 450. (WHS) Strada Pedonale Benedetto Fiandrini

 

Basilica of San Vitale Built during the reign of the Emperor Justinian (527-565), it houses gleaming mosaics both Roman and Byzantine. The one of Justinian’s wife, Theodora, in the presbytery looks regal. You’d never know that she came from a family of circus performers and started out as a dancer and prostitute. (WHS) Via Salara, 20

 

Arian Baptistry The mosaics in this church espouse the teachings of Arius (250-336), who asserted that Christ did not always exist but was created by God the Father—he was not god become man, but man become god. Arius was declared a heretic during his lifetime and then again posthumously. The dome contains a marvelous mosaic showing the Baptism of Christ. (WHS) Via degli Ariani

 

Neone Baptistry Stand at the octagonal baptismal font, look up and turn around for the best view of the iridescent 5th-century mosaics that also depict the Baptism of Christ. (WHS) Piazza Duomo

 

Oratory of St. Andrew This tiny chapel inside the Museum of the Archbishop’s Palace shows the Church’s warrior side in a magnificent mosaic of Christ dressed as a general (is that a kilt, he’s wearing?) and treading on beasts. (WHS) Piazza Arcivescovado

 

Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo This mausoleum on the outskirts of town was built in 504 by Theodoric, an Arian, and reconsecrated to mainstream Catholicism in 561, when the Arian saints were covered up by mosaic curtains. The nave has three levels of magnificent mosaic friezes. (WHS) Via Roma, 52

 

Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe The radiant apse is filled with glistening mosaics of Sant’Apollinare, the first bishop of Ravenna, showing him in pastoral settings. (The vegetation recalls that of La Pineta di Classe, a nearby pine wood beloved by Dante, Bocaccio, and Byron, and accessible by a path behind the Basilica.) UNESCO called the building “an outstanding example of the early Christian basilica” when consecrating it as a World Heritage Site. Via Romea Sud, 216 (about three miles from the city center).

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Dante’s Tomb Exiled from Florence for political reasons, the poet finished The Divine Comedy in Ravenna and died here in 1321. Florence later demanded Dante’s remains, but Ravenna refused. Concealed in the wall of St. Francis’ Monastery by the friars, the remains reposed there until 1865, when they were rediscovered and moved to this rather incongruous neo-classical temple. Since the 1700’s, Florence has donated enough Tuscan olive oil to keep a votive lamp burning there 24/7. Via Dante Alighieri

 

RELAXING

 

Piazza del Popolo Ravenna's main square is the city’s social hub and thebest place for people atching over an aperitivo or a piadina, a flatbread filled with salumi and squacquerone, a buttery fresh cheese. Café Grand Italia has the most cordial service.

 

DINING

 

Trattoria Al Gallo If you have only meal in Ravenna, take it in this century-old, family-run restaurant of belle époque elegance and delectable traditional Ravennese specialities like cappelletti with white truffles and passatelli in broth. Via Maggiore, 87

 

Osteria dei Battibecchi Tiny and perfect for lunch, it serves its own hot piadine and tagliatelle al rag with the best Romagnolo wines. Via della Tesoreria Vecchia, 16

 

Ca’ de’ Ven Communal tables and lots of atmosphere (vaulted stone ceilings and dark wood wine shelves ten feet high) go perfectly with the Romagnolo fare. Via Corrado Ricci, 24

SHOPPING

 

Koko Mosaico This workshop in the city centre creates mosaics on commissions from a photo of whoever or whatever. Via di Roma, 136

 

La Buttega ad Giorgioni Arguably Italy's best erboristeria (a shop devoted to herbal products and phytotherapy). Run by the Giorgioni family since 1888, it offers liqueurs, elixirs, tisanes (including ones made-to-order), essential oils and medicinal herbs for whatever ails you. Via IV Novembre, 43

 

La Stamperia dei Pascucci The retail outlet of Pascucci, which has been hand-printing designs on linen and cotton since 1826. Via Mentana, 12

 

Marchesini Ravenna's best gourmet shop. Via Mazzini, 2

 

Mercato Comunale This daily covered market in Piazza Costa offers the best local cheeses and finest salumi, fruits, salads and piadine.

 

MAIN EVENTS

 

The Ravenna Festival Held annually in June and July, this is one of Europe's most important music festivals, drawing the likes of Zubin Metha, Claudio Abbado and native son Riccardo Muti. The historic basilicas are used for sacred music programs.

 

Antiques and Crafts Market Every third Saturday and Sunday of the month in Piazza Garibaldi and surrounding streets and squares. One of Italy's most visited outdoor antique markets.

 

 

Article by Mimi Murphy

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