Ravenna was such a pleasant surprise, set only a 90 minute train ride from Bologna. It’s a popular day trip for its 1,500 year old Christian Byzantine mosaics, some of the best preserved in the world. To see all the sights here at a leisurely pace, I recommend spending the night.
My hotel, fittingly named ‘Hotel Ravenna’, was decent, though the lady at the reception had me totally confounded. She didn’t understand a word of English, and was a rather loud Italian who thought that if she kept speaking louder to me, I would eventually understand. I have no idea what she said, but when she handed me the key with the room number on it, I got that. I started roaming about the town and saw many tourists like me, though not an overwhelming amount, and realized Ravenna was a very clean and laid-back city…some might call it sleepy, but when I think sleepy, I think Bruges.
I headed straight to the mosaics, as I figured I’d knock those out during the day. There were two basilicas, two baptisteries, and a mausoleum. The basilicas were stunning….the first one, San Vitale, hit me with emotion right as I walked in. It reminded me of the feeling I got when I walked into the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. After seeing so many European churches, what gets me really going is something unique. There was a beautifully painted dome on the ceiling, but the real attraction was the mosaics near the back of the church. You walked through a giant arch that was painted with the depictions of Jesus and the apostles. As you looked up after entering, you saw the ceiling painted with four angels holding up the lamb of God. The surrounding panels depicted the stories of Cain and Abel, Moses, and Jesus offering the martyr crown to Saint Vitale, who the church was named after.
The other church was the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. There were mosaics depicting Jesus and his miracles, the three wise men, and lots of angels. The altar was gorgeous – mostly white and gold – and there was a cool wooden ceiling with a beautifully painted dome overhead.
I liked the baptistries, though they took the least time to go through as they were much smaller than the basilicas. Both of them, the Arian Baptistry and the Baptistry of Neon, had ceilings showing the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia took the longest to get into, as it’s climate controlled and can only take ten visitors at a time to protect the integrity of the mosaics. I loved the ‘blue star’ motif, and the mosaic over the entrance of Jesus as a shepherd. All of the mosaics in Ravenna are UNESCO World Heritage sites…and much deserved.
The other main thing I did while here was visit the Dante Alighieri museum, the writer of ‘The Divine Comedy’. I remember trying to read this book back in 6th grade for a writing assignment. My teacher told me I’d never make it through, so I wanted to prove her wrong….but she was right, I got twenty pages in and quit. Regardless, I know the story like most do of Dante’s journey through hell, purgatory and heaven. Not being the biggest museum fan, I thought this was wonderful. It started with a timeline telling of Dante’s life. He lived in Florence for his early and mid-years, and then made the decision to get into politics….not many poets getting political these days. It turns out politics was just as corrupt back then, as they brought trumped up charges of financial indiscretions against him, and he was exiled from Florence and his family. He ended up living the rest of his years in Ravenna, away from his family, but learned to love the city. There was a huge exhibit on his journey from inferno to paradiso, which was beautifully done, I think, really taking you through the highlights of the more than 14,000 line poem.
Outside the museum is Dante’s tomb. As a penance for exiling him, Florence pays every year for the oil to keep the lamp inside the tomb burning…only in Italy. 🙂
Aside from the amazing sights, I had a great time strolling and eating in and around Piazza Del Popolo, the main square in the city. Ravenna is perfect for an overnight trip, and I highly recommend ‘Hotel Ravenna’ for its proximity to the train station. If you’re traveling through Northern Italy, this city is a must-see.