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Photo of Ravenna Baptistery of Neon

Visit Ravenna Baptistery of Neon

The baptistery of Neon is a very ancient baptistery in the city of Ravenna in north-east Italy, and one of several important roman and byzantine buildings in the town.

It is also sometimes called the orthodox baptistery - this is because there are two important baptisteries in Ravenna, of different religions that competed for importance in the late Roman and early medieval periods: the other is called the Arian Baptistery of Ravenna.

Discover the baptistery of Neon in Ravenna

Italy This Way comment: the baptistery of Neon is quite a simple and unassuming building in a pretty garden from the exterior, but inside there are remarkable mosaics and paintings that adorn the ceiling and walls, making it a very impressive monument to visit, and one of a very small number of Christian buildings that remain that were built during the Ancient Roman epoch

Outside of the Neonian Baptistery

From the outside the baptistery is a simple octagonal tower, although it is useful to remember that originally the ground level in Ravenna was nearly three metres lower, so the original tower was taller than the one we see today. As is common with ancient baptisteries, it is octagonal in shape to represent the seven days of creation and the Eternal life.

It was built in the early fifth centuriy, when Ravenna was still part of the Roman empire, by Bishop Ursus (so it was built almost a century before the Arian Baptistery which you will also visit in Ravenna). It is the most ancient of the monuments in Ravenna. The mosaics were added several decades later. Unfortunately the original basilica that was built next to the baptistery was destroyed in the 18th century.

 
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The mosaics in the ceiling are the most important part of the decoration, with a large mosaic of Jesus being baptised by Saint John the Baptist in the Jordan river in the centre of the dome, with a dove of peace above his head and next to an old man carrying a water reed that is commonly used to represent the river. The background is blue, in contrast with most early baptisteries which used a gold background.

Around this central section you can see the 12 apostles, led by Saint Peter and Paul, each bearing crowns.

(In the Arian baptistery, built by the Ostrogoths after they had conquered Ravenna, the layout is similar although the two saints are carrying keys and a scroll in that structure, Jesus does not have a beard, and the walls have lost their original mosaics and paintings).

The decoration of the walls of the Baptistery of Neon was also completed in the 5th century. The lower part has reliefs of the prophets in the classical style separated by columns and further mosaics. There are numerous interesting carvings, most of symbolic significance. You can also see a part of the original baptism well.

Interior walls and reliefs in the Orthodox Baptistery

Note: because the baptistery is small and receves a lot of visitors, at busy times you are only allowed a few minutes for a visit so if you hope to spend longer sat on one of the benches admiring the mosaics you should visit early or outside high season.

Attractions nearby

The Neon baptistery is next door to the cathedral and the Chapel of San Andrea, so this part of the town is important to your tour of Ravenna.

There are a total of eight buildings in Ravenna that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, most of them very interesting to visit: see the Ravenna guide.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Emilia-Romagna guide.

See also: 

Photos of Ravenna Baptistery of Neon

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Map of Ravenna Baptistery of Neon and places to visit

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