From Venice, I took the train to Ravenna. I know what you're all thinking: you've never heard of Ravenna, right? Well, put it on your list of places that you must see if you ever come to Italy. It is nicknamed "the mosaic city" and it's beautiful. Ravenna has a rich history that has left it with a multitude of cultural treasures. In the 5th century, it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire until it fell to the Germanic Ostrogoths. King Theoderic the Great moved into Ravenna and made it his capital city, from which he ruled the Ostrogoths and, for a time, also the Visigoths. Theoderic is an interesting guy...he made a treaty with the Italian King, and then killed him with his own hands while they were toasting it at a feast. But, as a ruler, he was known as being fair and peaceful and promoting racial harmony. He allowed the Italians to live by Roman law, while the Goths lived by their laws. When angry mobs burned synagogues, he ordered them rebuilt at the city's expense. He oversaw the building of structures dedicated to his Arian Christianity, but also allowed the Orthodox Latin Bishops to build structures dedicated to their beliefs. He reigned over a long period of peace in the region. Even kings, however, are mortal...within 30 years of his death, the Byzantines had taken Ravenna and, they too, made it their seat of government.
So, as you can imagine, this is a city filled with a wide variety of architecture and antiquities. And a common thread running through most of them is the amazing mosaic tile work that the city is known for.
Some other points of interest:
- Car traffic is banned in the oldest parts of the city, so locals get around on bikes...somewhat like in Amsterdam, although where I would guess Amsterdam is about 80% bikes and 20% cars, Ravenna is probably a 50/50 split. Still, it's nice to be away from all that smog, noise, and traffic congestion.
- Ravenna is small, easy to navigate with a tourist map, and if you don't mind walking a bit, you can do all the historical sites on foot.
- It's only 2km from the Adriatic coast, so if you're here in warmer weather there are beautiful beaches close by.
- Because it's not as well known as Florence, Venice, or Rome, there aren't as many crowds. I walked right into everything I wanted to see today without any wait.
This is the entrance gate to San Giovani Evangelista.
These are buildings in Piazza del Popolo, where the current seat of government is located.
This is the municipal building in Piazza del Popolo.
This place was serving all kinds of tempting treats...and the cute entrance just makes you want to venture inside.
Even the street signs are pretty.
This is the gate into the old city.
This is the Basilica of St. Vitale. Not spectacular on the outside, but stroll inside and...
...you are greeted with amazingly beautiful tile work.
Photos just don't do this justice. It's all done in small pieces of mosaic tile.
Just behind the basilica is the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, daughter, wife and mother to Roman Emperors. Again, don't be fooled by the drab exterior.
This is the interior. Under each arch is a sarcophagus.
A closer view.
This was once a Roman bathhouse, but was turned into a baptistery called Battistero Neoniano. I guess if you've already got a well, why not?
The ceiling inside the baptistery.
The marble baptismal pool in the middle.
One of the many arches around the pool.
A closer view of the amazing craftsmanship of the tile work.