Ravenna, A Jewel On The Northern Adriatic
Ravenna in the northern Italian province of Emilia Romagna is a bit off usual cruise itineraries but is gaining in interest. Located only two and a half hours from Venice by train and with frequent service starting at €12 it is a popular day trip for people visiting Venice. Ravenna, often overlooked is an incredible treasure trove of art and history with its basilica containing the worlds most extensive collection of Byzantine mosaics. The city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 AD until the Western Empires collapse in 476. Today, Ravenna is home to eight world heritage sites, is known for its great food and is located on good beaches on the Adriatic coast that include some world class beach resorts.
Where Your Ship Docks – The Ravenna pier capable of accommodating large cruise ships is about 5 miles outside the city and shuttles are usually provided. To catch a train to Venice you also need to get into the central station located in the center of town. There is no cruise terminal or facilities near the pier.
Transportation – Getting into Ravenna usually is by a shuttle bus and there will probably be very little in the way of taxis available at the pier. With the likelihood of Venice no longer providing access for cruise ships Ravenna could become the gateway port for visiting Venice. Expect bus tours to Venice to become common and train service takes about 2 to 3 hours.
Currency – Italy uses the Euro and Ravenna requires you to change some money as Pounds, US and Canadian Dollars are not usually accepted. The are ATM’s readily available and credit cards are welcome.
Eight Unesco World Heritage Sites
- The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia meant to be the resting place of Galla Placidia, the sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius who had transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna in 402 AD.
- The Neonian Baptistery and…
- Arian Baptistery with both including plain octagonal shaped brick exteriors with lavish interiors.
- The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo with its 26 mosaic scenes from the New Testament, the oldest mosaics in the world. It is the the only chapel of the early Christian era that is still fully preserved.
- The Mausoleum of Theodoric built in 520 AD by Theodoric the Great, King and unifier of the Ostrogoths.
The city is also the site of the Tomb of Dante Alighieri the author of The Divine Comedy. He was exiled from his native Florence to Ravenna in 1318, where he completed Paradise, the final section of his famous three part work. Dante is buried in the graveyard beside the San Francesco Basilica.
The jewel of the city is the “Basilica of San Vitale” in Ravenna, one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe. Built in the 6th century it is especially noted for the colorful mosaics of Christian icons that decorate the interior walls and ceilings.
The Roman Catholic Church has designated the building a “basilica”, the title bestowed on church buildings of exceptional historic and ecclesiastical importance, although it is not an architectural basilica form.
The Basilica of San Vitale was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 526, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths and completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 547.
The church has an octagonal plan with the building combining Roman elements: the dome, shape of doorways, and stepped towers; with Byzantine elements: polygonal apse, capitals, narrow bricks, and one of the earliest examples of the flying buttress. The church is most famous for its collection of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside of Constantinople. The church is of extreme importance in Byzantine art, as it is the only major church from the period of the Emperor Justinian I to survive virtually intact to the present day. Furthermore, it is thought to reflect the design of the Byzantine Imperial Palace Audience Chamber, of which nothing at all survives. The Church also inspired the design of the church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople, and also was the model used by the Emperor Charlemagne for his Palatine Chapel in Aachen in 805. Centuries later the San Vitale dome was the inspiration for Filippo Brunelleschi in the design for the dome of the Duomo of Florence, Italy.
Besides the history and good food the city is also a very easy place for walking. It features a number of wide pedestrian malls lined with good shops, cafes and restaurants.
Outside the city towards the Adriatic beaches you will pass a number of canals dotted with interesting fishing huts with huge and elaborate fishing net contraptions that don’t seem a very sporting way of fishing. Even at the beach there is a long pier also with a number of these fishing huts and nets.
Of additional historic interest is the lagoon just north of the Ravenna pier. At the time that Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire the lagoon was the home port of the Roman fleet, the largest navy in the Mediterranean at the time. Excavations are exposing piers, shipyards and associated ruins from the period.
Minerva’s Pencil Case has a great post HERE with some breathtaking interior photography.