Ravenna, A Jewel On The Northern Adriatic
Cruises are now adding Ravenna to their itineraries more often, but don’t just rush off to visit Venice. This city is a treasure not to be missed, especially if you have an interested in art, architecture and history.
Ravenna in the northern Italian province of Emilia Romagna hasn’t been a major cruise destination in the past but now that Venice has closed its port to most cruise ships Ravenna is getting more interest. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are now using Ravenna as a port to visit Venice as well as a new embarkation port. Located only two and a half hours from Venice by tour bus and with frequent train service starting at €12 it is gaining popularity for day trips visiting Venice.
Ravenna itself, 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 great beach resorts.
Where Ships Dock – The Ravenna pier capable of accommodating several cruise ships is about 5 miles outside the city and shuttles are normally provided. To catch a train to Venice you also need to get into the station located in the center of town. There is no cruise terminal or regular 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 Venice no longer providing access for cruise ships Ravenna is becoming one of the gateway ports for visiting Venice. Expect bus tours to Venice to become common and train service takes about 2 to 3 hours each way.
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, being 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“, 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, even though it is not an architectural basilica form.
The Basilica of San Vitale was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 526 AD, 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.
Farther north fJust north from the archeological site is the resort area of Marina Romea with one of the best beaches along the coast it was, founded in the the 20th century. The town itself is a green oasis with a small boat marina, a riding school, sports facilities and beautiful paths running through the pine woods out to a golden beach.