“The early Christian religious monuments in Ravenna are of outstanding significance by virtue of the supreme artistry of the mosaic art that they contain, and also because of the crucial evidence that they provide of artistic and religious relationships and contacts at an important period of European cultural history”.

It is for this reason that in December 1996 Unesco ratified the inscription of the eight Early Christian monuments of Ravenna on the World Heritage List of Unesco. From that moment, the Basilica of San Vitale, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Arian Baptistery and the Baptistery of Neon, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, the Oratory of Sant’Andrea (or Archiepiscopal Chapel) and the Mausoleum of Theoderic have been not only heritage of Ravenna but also of the entire world.

Walking and cycling through the city centre is like reliving an ancient history: starting from the Roman era and its magnificent early Christian basilicas, through the Renaissance and up to the 19th century, when the city was rediscovered by famous visitors such as Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud and Gustav Klimt.

What makes Ravenna unique are the mosaics which are exquisite and decorate the inside of every single monuments: what looks like just a collection of tiny, bright tiles is  in reality a vivid image of a sea voyage, an image of Jesus, or a choir of angels: I sometimes wonder how long each of these mosaics must have taken to create. What talent they had!

Mosaics of Ravenna
Mosaics of Ravenna

Mausoleum of Galla Placida

According to UNESCO this mausoleum is “the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments, and at the same time one of the most artistically perfect Galla Placidia, daughter of the Roman emperor Theodosius I, was a well-known patron of the arts and she had this built as a mausoleum for her and her family. Three sarcophagi are there and while no one is certain, one is said to he hers, a second belongs to her husband, Emperor Constantius III, and the third is for either Galla’s son, Emperor Valentinian III, or her brother, Emperor Honorius.

TheMausoleum of Galla Placida in Ravenna
The mausoleum is illuminated by luminous alabaster window panels.

Arian Baptistry

The Arian Baptistry was erected by Theodoric the Great, king of the the Ostrogoths. The Goths (Arians) and the Latins (Orthodox) had different views of Christ. To keep the peace Theodoric built this baptistry “of the Arians” in order to distinguish it from the Baptistry of Neon (of the Orthodox) that had been built a century before. The ceiling mosaic is remarkable

The ceiling mosaic is remarkable
Ceiling mosaics, Arian Baptistry

Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo

The same man who built the Arian Baptistry, King Theodoric the Great, built this as his chapel and dedicated it to Christ the Redeemer in 504. It earned its present name in the 800s when some relics from Saint Appolinaris (a bishop of the second century later made a saint) were transferred here.

Basilica of San Vitale

The Basilica of San Vitale is the best known and most popular of UNESCO’s eight sites. Its Byzantine mosaics are the largest and best preserved outside of Constantinople.

Piadina

Here we are not talking about architecture but about another art form: cookery! Piadina is heaven on a plate. Piadina is a thin, unleavened Italian flatbread that is typical of Ravenna and the surrounding areas. It is usually made with white flour, olive oil, salt and water. Piadine are usually made on-the-spot and served immediately. The warm, crispy rounds are filled to order. You can choose a variety of cheeses, meats and/or vegetables, or get it with sweet fillings such as jam or Nutella.

Piadina: a perfect break
Piadina: another highlight of your day in Ravenna: a perfect break between a church and the other!