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Ravenna – Chock Full of Italian World Heritage

Experience the beauty of Ravenna where Byzantine mosaics adorn the walls and ceiling of the Basilicas, Baptistries, and mausoleums in this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Italy has more world heritage sites than any other country so you don’t have to go far to find one. While we were traveling around northern Italy we knew one city we had to get to was Ravenna. Ravenna was the short lived capital of the Holy Roman Empire for part of the 5th century and most of the architecture from that era still remains in pretty near perfect condition today.

The Byzantine mosaics are said to be some of the finest examples of their kind. While driving into the city, we couldn’t see much in the skyline to hint at what was to come. These aren’t your towering cathedrals found in other European cities. Byzantine structures were much lower to the ground with most of the workmanship and effort put into the artwork in the interiors. We followed a series of brown signs that eventually led us to the main parking lot next to Basilica di San Vitale.

The exterior of the Basilica di San Vitale masks the splendor within.
The exterior of the Basilica di San Vitale masks the splendor within

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Exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna

When you arrive by car you’re most likely to park at the Basilica and it makes for a good place to start exploring Ravenna. The peaceful grounds, and simple architecture of the church are calming and pleasant to stroll around. However, when you walk through the dark portal and let your eyes adjust to the dimmer light you’ll be astounded by the sights around you.

Byzantine mosaics adorn the walls and ceiling of the Basilica di San Vitale.
Byzantine mosaics adorn the walls and ceiling of the Basilica di San Vitale

The walls and ceilings are covered in colorful, elaborate mosaics and stucco relief sculptures depicting various biblical scenes. Even the marble that isn’t carved shows a rich swirling pattern that I’ve not seen before.

The mosaics are a reminder of the rich history of this one-time capital city.
The mosaics are a reminder of the rich history of this one-time capital city

Additional Reading:
San Marino and Its Castle
Photography Tips for Venice
Lucca, Another Italian Gem
Top Ten Things to do in Bolzano
The Romance of Venice
A Comprehensive Guide To Spending a Week in Bologna, Italy 

The dome of Basilica is one of the most beautiful in the world.
The dome of Basilica is one of the most beautiful in the world.
Even the arches are covered in mosaics.
Even the arches are covered in mosaics

So much decoration and artwork cover the surfaces that I’m sure there are so many things I never even noticed while I was there. In fact, I was amazed to find scenes and pictures that I never saw until days later when I was looking at the photographs. The artistry and skill that went into these detailed mosaics is just unimaginable until you see it for yourself.

One of the beautifully decorated ceilings inside the Basilica.
One of the beautifully decorated ceilings inside the Basilica

Next Stop – Mausoleum of Galla Placida

The second stop on the itinerary is right on the grounds of the Basilica at the Mausoleum of Galla Placida. Galla Placida was the sister of  the Roman Emperor Honorius. When she died in 452 AD he had this mausoleum built to honor her memory. Little did he know that the structure and the mosaics within would remain mostly intact for centuries. Once inside this brick structure you’ll find colorful mosaics depicting the heavens in deep vermillion and glimmering gold.

Exterior view of the Mausoleum of Galla Placida.
You can also visit the Mausoleum of Galla Placida
Richly decorated mosaic of stars on the ceiling of the mausoleum.
The use of color and design is incredible

Third Stop – Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo

Again, the exterior of the Sant'Apollinare Nuovo hides the rich artwork found inside.
Again, the exterior of the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo hides the rich artwork found inside.

I have to admit, when I rounded the corner on our way to this stop on the route I was impressed by the nine story tall tower that greeted us. I’ve never seen anything so tall and slender that has survived so well. In fact this newer Basilica is much more ornate and decorative on the outside then the earlier construction of San Vitale. Again, the mosaics in the interior halls and rooms shone in shimmering gold. This was my favorite stop in all of Ravenna. I really loved the procession of Saints, Martyrs, and Apostles that line the hall.

The incredible detail brings the mosaics to life.
The incredible detail brings the mosaics to life

The Last Stop – The Neonian Bapistry!

We debated on whether or not to continue on to the last of the three complexes in Ravenna. In the end, I’m glad we did. The mosaic in the cupola of this massive octaganol baptistry has no equal in the world. Built around the same time as the earlier Basilica di San Vitale, this plain, angular building again hides the beauty within.

The Neonian Baptistry contains more enchanting mosaics.
The Neonian Baptistry contains more enchanting mosaics

Here we found the entire domed ceiling covered with a scene of the John baptizing Jesus. The details in this piece, like the transparent water, are incredible. Again, this was definitely worth the walk.

Rich mosaic of John the Baptist baptizing Christ in the Neonian Baptistry.

Practical Information for a trip to Ravenna

  • The sites in Ravenna are spread around the town in three main locations
  • It is possible to drive to each of the sites, but there is limited parking, so it’s best to walk
  • Plan for at least 3 hours to visit all three sites, 4 hours is better with lunch or a snack added between sites.
  • The ticket to enter all of the sites was 9.50 euro when we visited
  • Tickets are valid for seven days, so you could spend more time in the town and spread out your explorations
  • Parking at the main lot at Basilica di San Vitale was easy to find, cheap, and secure (as usual, never leave belongings in plain sight)
  • Visit the Official website for more detailed information
Ravenna's old town center is a pedestrian zone perfect for riding bikes or strolling.
A good way to get around the different sites in Ravenna is by bike, but it’s just as easy to walk

Pin “Ravenna – Italian World Heritage” for later!

Ravenna - Chock Full of Italian World Heritage.

Anuradha Goyal

Saturday 27th of August 2016

Lovely and inviting murals

Corinne Vail

Saturday 27th of August 2016

Anuradha, Thanks!

Vyjay

Wednesday 3rd of August 2016

Ravenna, so exquisite, almost like a poem come to life. Hope to get there in this lifetime.

Corinne Vail

Friday 5th of August 2016

Vyjay, Ravenna is full of treasures. I hope you make it there soon.

Shobha

Friday 22nd of July 2016

Wow! what an amazing ceiling(s) - so intricate! I'm pretty sure that I would get a crick in my neck from staring at it. just love the level of detail.

Corinne Vail

Friday 22nd of July 2016

Shobha, The whole city of Ravenna is really amazing. The mosaics are stunning!

Ami

Thursday 21st of July 2016

Did not know so much about Ravenna but thanks to your post, now I do. Hope to make it here some day. Definitely a place for me.

Corinne Vail

Thursday 21st of July 2016

Ami, I know you would love it. We history-lovers think alike!

melody pittman

Thursday 21st of July 2016

Ravenna is gorgeous and I love visiting anywhere that offers UNESCO world heritage sites. I didn't make it there on my last trip to Italy but I feel another trip in the near future. I love the architecture. Splendid.

Corinne Vail

Thursday 21st of July 2016

Melody, Do put Ravenna on your list. It's a fantastic destination!