Ravenna is a showcase of art, history and culture of the first order. The city has ancient origins and a glorious past. From the fifth to the eight centuries it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and a considerable patrimony has been passed down to us from that magnificent period.
Ravenna is, above all, a city of mosaics. Its ancient walls conserve mankind’s richest heritage of mosaics dating from the fifth and sixth centuries. The simple external shell of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia conceals an infinite sky of stars; the refined composition that decorates the Neonian Baptistery is inspired by cultured Greek tradition, resumed also in the Arian Baptistery; the majesty of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo reveals its origins as a palatine church, built by Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths; more than one hundred charming little birds lead you into the intimate atmosphere of the Chapel of Sant’Andrea, where a triumphant Christ is celebrated; the majestic Mausoleum of Theodoric, with its enormous monolithic roof covering; the Basilica of San Vitale, the greatest treasure of the early Christian era, contains a portrait of the imperial Byzantine court; outside the city the elegant Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe exalts Christ and Sant’Apollinare, the first bishop and church father, in the mosaic of the apse.
If Ravenna was the main political and cultural centre of the West during the centuries that saw the decline of the Latin civilisation, it also bears witness to earlier and more recent periods. Treasures from the age of antiquity can be rediscovered in recent archaeological finds such as the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra (House of Stone Carpets) or the enormous Roman port of Classe. It is the city that keeps the mortal remains of Dante and keeps his memory alive with important cultural events. One can read in the winding paths of streets its past as a lagoon city whose canals were closed during the period of Venetian rule at the end of the 15th century making way for the elegant great square, now known as Piazza del Popolo.
The culture of Ravenna is varied and abundant. The MAR, Municipal Art Museum of Ravenna regularly puts on prestigious exhibitions and contains, together with a number of permanent collections, the famous funerary statue of Guidarello Guidarelli and a collection of contemporary mosaics produced during the fifties by mosaicists of Ravenna on cartoons by internationally famous artists. The National Museum exhibits a varied range of collections, including the stone tablet collection, finds from archaeological digs of Roman and Byzantine remains, the fourteenth century frescoes of the Church of Santa Chiara. The Archiepiscopal Museum is located in the Cathedral and contains the Chapel of Sant’Andrea and the Ivory Throne, a masterpiece of all time of sculpture in ivory. The Dante Museum contains relics related to the veneration and fame of the poet, while the Museum of the Risorgimento takes us back to strongly felt sentiments in connection with Mazzini and Garibaldi. Also of great importance are the main library institutions: the prestigious Classense Library and Casa Oriani. The library of the Dante Centre, kept by the Franciscan order, contains rare manuscripts and publications concerning Dante.
The colours of Ravenna glisten with the reflections of contemporary mosaics. With the Parco della Pace and the monumental elegance of the Ardea Purpurea fountain, Ravenna is the capital of mosaics not only because it has the extraordinary masterpieces of the fifth and sixth centuries but also because it expresses the artistic sentiments of the present.
A pleasant way to discover Ravenna is to look around the stands of the Antiques Market. There are numerous Cycle paths which make it possible to reach any location in the city, the beaches, the pine wood or the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. The ‘Mosaics by Night’ and ‘Golden Night’ events present the city’s treasures in a new way which become a great multiple stage of events.
In Autumn, Ravenna will house the second edition RavennaMosaico, the first International Festival dedicated to the most contemporary expressions of the ancient art of mosaic.
Ravenna, a refined hospitable city offers events of international prestige. The two public theatres, Alighieri and Rasi, have an intense entertainment programme: music and ballet, prose and contemporary theatre and in the summer there is the Ravenna Festival, acknowledged as one of the most important European cultural events.
Just a short distance from the sea, Ravenna also offers nine seaside resorts along its 35 kilometres of coast with a rich variety of possibilities for holidays.
Tourism in Ravenna, however, is not only art or seaside. For lovers of nature nothing can be more exciting than a visit to the Punte Alberete nature reserve, while the historical pine woods of San Vitale and Classe still echo with the seductive attraction that enticed Dante and Botticelli, Boccaccio and Byron, Oscar Wilde and D’Annunzio.
The restructured palace of Sant’Alberto, also included in the national park is now the home of NatuRA, the Alfredo Brandolini Museum of Natural Sciences of Ravenna, which has a large number of historical collections of the local fauna.
Ravenna is a city that lives in the present and plans its future, protecting the past and putting it to good use. Ravenna is a living mosaic.