Photo of Ravenna

Visit Ravenna

Ravenna is an important town situated close to the Adriatic sea, to the east of the Emilia-Romagna region of central Italy. In many ways Ravenna is a typical Italian town, with the 'usual' range of piazzas and churches, historic buildings and a pleasant historic centre to explore. But Ravenna has something extra to offer...

The city was a very important capital in Europe around the 5th-6th century, and numerous important religious monuments were built at that time, and many of them decorated with spectacular mosaics - as a consequence there are eight important historic monuments in Ravenna from this period that together are listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Explore Ravenna

Italy This Way review: although the town is best known for the historic buildings and their astonishing mosaics, Ravenna has several other sights of interest, and is just a few kilometres from the coast and long sandy beaches, but the town centre apart from the monuments is not particularly interesting.

Mosaics and monuments in Ravenna

Christ being baptised, mosaic in the Arian BaptistryThe eight UNESCO listed heritage sites in Ravenna date from the 5th-6th centuries, and all are worth visiting. Here we can do little to convey the spectacle of walls covered with glittering gold and glass in multiple colours, and the wide range of stories that are depicted, even less the experience of being surrounded by these pictures - but rest assured they are often spectacular!

Archbishop's Chapel: this small 6th century private chapel is the smallest of the UNESCO sites in Ravenna, and one of the least visited.  It is found on the first floor of the Bishop's Palace and although parts of the original mosaics were replaced by paintings in the 16th century the remaining mosaics in the vault are very impressive.

Arian Baptistry: A small octagonal baptistry dating from around 500 AD, the baptitry itself is interesting but the highlight is the mosaic in the dome representing Christ being baptised, surrounded by the 12 apostles. See Arian baptistery of Ravenna.

Note in particular how Christ is represented in this mosaic by a youthful young man, as was common for the first few centuries of Christianity, rather than the bearded adult that was adopted later. See also the Christ pictured in the Basilica Saint Vitale.


Basilica of Saint Apollinare Nuovo:The interior of this early 6th century basilica is remarkable for the number of detailed mosaics running along both sides of the nave that relate numerous biblical stories. See Ravenna basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.

Basilica of San Vitale: constructed to an octagonal design in the 6th century, this is one of the most important examples of Byzantine art in Europe. The church is unusual in that the focus is in the centre of the building rather than on an altar at the end of a long nave, as we expect to see in later churches, with a series of inset arches and marble columns all around this central space.

The church, its fine paintings and decoration are in themselves architecturally interesting and very impressive, but the mosaics in San Vitale are exceptional - laid out in extraordinary detail, they largely represent scenes from the bible and the byzantine era. See Ravenna Basilica of San Vitale.

Mosaics in Ravenna

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia: This mausoleum is just behind the Basilica of San Vitale and dates from 430 AD, making it one of the oldest religious monuments in the city.

It is also one of the most decorative, with marble at ground level up to about two metres above the ground and several substantial mosaic pictures and a large area of mosaic patterns above. See Ravenna Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

Despite the name of the mausoleum it is said that Galla Placidia was never actually buried here, although it is possible she commissioned the building to be used for that purpose

Mausoleum of Theodoric:This small mausoleum dates from 520 AD and is 10-sided in shape, on two levels and with an enormous single carved stone as a roof.

Theodoric was interred here but his remains were removed during the byzantine period. This mausoleum is listed by UNESCO because of its architectural interest but does not contain mosaics.

Neon Baptistry: This baptistry is the oldest of the monuments in Ravenna, being built at the beginning of the 5th century - although the mosaics were added later, at the end of the 5th century.

It is octagonal in shape and was built on the site of a Roman bathhouse. The dome mosaics are exceptional and represent the baptism of Christ surrounded by the 12 apostles (as in the Arian baptistry, although the artwork is quite different here). See Neon Baptistery of Ravenna.

Note however that the head of Christ, the arm of Saint John the Baptist and the plate he holds are all restorations from much later, and may not be faithful to the originals.

Basilica in RavennaThis octagonal style is commonly used in early baptistrys throughout the Christian world - the eight sides represent the seven days of the week and also the Day of the resurrection.

Basilica of Sant Apollinare in Classe: this basilica is the latest of the monuments, being built in the 6th century, and is situated at Classe, a few kilometres outside Ravenna.

Although the original mosaics that lined both sides of the nave (as in the Basilica of Saint Apollinare Nuovo) have disappeared, those in the dome above the apse are extremely detailed and impressive. See Ravenna basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe.

Other attractions in Ravenna

The centre of the town is around Piazza del Popolo, an attractive square surrounded by impressive 15th century buildings. The streets that lead off from the square are also very pleasant to explore.

You can also visit the Basilica of San Francesco and see the adjacent marble lined tomb of Dante who lived here from 1302 (after he had been exiled from Florence) until his death in 1321. It was in Ravenna that he wrote his great masterwork, the Divine Comedy, telling the story of his travels with Virgil through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

There is also a high quality National Museum that has an extensive range of artefacts covering a wide period of history and with numerous paintings, artworks and archaeological finds to enjoy.

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

See also: 

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Map of Ravenna and places to visit


Ravenna places to visit

Dante's Tomb in Ravenna

Dante's Tomb in Ravenna

The Tomb of Dznte is the final resting place of the great 13th century poet, Dante Alighieri

Dante's Tomb in Ravenna guide
Rasponi Crypt and gardens in Ravenna

Rasponi Crypt and gardens in Ravenna

The Rasponi crypt is the underground chapel of an 18th century palace, next to a large courtyard garden

Rasponi Crypt and gardens in Ravenna guide
Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna

Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna

The Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna is a 10th century church where the funeral of Dante took place

Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna guide
Archbishop's Chapel in Ravenna

Archbishop's Chapel in Ravenna

The Archbishop's Chapel in Ravenna is a tiny 6th century chapel decorated with byzantine mosaics

Archbishop's Chapel in Ravenna guide
Ravenna Baptistery of Neon

Ravenna Baptistery of Neon

Ravenna Baptistery of Neon is one of the most ancient Christian baptisteries, built in the 5th century and decorated with mosaics

Ravenna Baptistery of Neon guide
Ravenna Arian Baptistery

Ravenna Arian Baptistery

The Arian baptistery in Ravenna was built in the 5th century and retains its original mosaic ceiling in the dome

Ravenna Arian Baptistery guide

...or see all our recommended places to visit in Emilia-Romagna