While spending your holidays on the eastern coast of Italy, either exploring splendid canals and palaces in Venice or sipping a drink in the sun on a sandy beach in Rimini, it’s easy to forget about a real gem that is hidden halfway these two places – the city of Ravenna. Once a capital of the Western Roman Empire, it’s now a real paradise for mosaic lovers, worth spending a day ashore.
That’s true – Ravenna served as the seat of government of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until the fall of Rome in 476. It was later chosen by the Ostrogoths for the capital of their kingdom until it became the center of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna in 540. Two centuries later, it was conquered by the Lombards and became the capital of their kingdom. In the second half of the 8th century, Ravenna gradually came under the authority of the popes, with short periods of occupation by the Republic of Venice. The city remained in papal hands until 1861, when it became part of the unified Kingdom of Italy.
Ravenna bears many traces of its medieval significance, left by the last rulers of the Western Roman Empire and the early rulers of the Byzantine Empire. The most impressive example of early Christian artwork is the famous Basilica of San Vitale, founded by the emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora and consecrated in 547. The church contains magnificent mosaics representing scenes from the Old Testament and depicting the royal couple themselves. These gold, emerald and sapphire masterpieces were once described by the famous poet Dante, who died in Ravenna, as a ‘symphony of color’. You can find other splendid mosaics in the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, decorated with images of Christian martyrs, as well as in the tomb of Galla Placidia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, where you’ll see the oldest mosaic of Ravenna.
Ravenna is definitely a good place to stay in during your cruise along the eastern coast of Italy. Besides a commercial port, it offers high-standard marinas where you can moor your boat. What’s more, the city serves as a port of entry to Italy and is also a good port of refuge in the event of the strong bora wind. To find out more and to book berth spots in Ravenna, download our LookMarina app!