Journey to the 5th century mosaic city in Italy – Ravenna

Ravenna is an old city in Italy, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. It was 3 times the capital of Italy in the 5th and 6th century during the Roman and Byzantine empire.

This ancient city has amazing mosaic works well preserved in the basilicas and baptisteries and there are eight monuments of Ravenna being listed in the UNESCO world heritage sites. They are Basilica di San Vitale, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, Battistero Neoniano, Cappella di S. Andrea, Battistero degli Ariani, Basilica di S. Apollinare Nuovo, Mausoleo di Teodorico, Basilica di S. Apollinare in Classe.

The easiest way to visit Ravenna is from Bologna. There are frequent trains leaving from Bologna and the ride is around 90 mins.

As Ravenna is a small city, the best way to see everything is to walk. When you exit the train station, you will keep to the right hand side then cross the road and walk straight down to Viale Farini. When Viale Farini ends, you will cross the Via Roma and straight onto Via Armando Diaz.

Signs for different tourist attractions and Tourist Information Centre at the right hand side in the beginning of the Viale Diaz

Signs for different tourist attractions and Tourist Information Centre at the right hand side in the beginning of the Viale Diaz


Via Diaz

Via Diaz

Via Armando Diaz has many shops on both sides of the road and it is one of the main shopping area in the city.

Walk straight on and you will arrive at Piazza del Popolo. This is one of the main Piazza where people hangout  and there are restaurants and cafes around the Piazza.



There are some clear road signs which will lead you to  the tourist information centre. I always make the tourist information centre my first stop whenever possible when I visit a new city.


From the tourist information centre, you can get a detailed map of the city  and then plan your route to walk around all the monuments. You have to buy the combined ticket at Euro 9.50 which includes the admission of 5  basilicas and baptisteries : Basilica di S. Apollinare Nuovo, Battistero Neoniano, Battistero degli Ariani, Basilica di San Vitale, Mausoleum di Galla Placidia. There are no single tickets sold for these 5 monuments.

Basilica di San Vitale

The Basilica di San Vitale was consecrated in 547 by Archbishop Massimiano.

front entrance of San Vitale

front entrance of San Vitale

Back of San Vitale

Back of San Vitale

San Vitale is a small domed church in the Byzantine architectural style. It has an octagonal plan, with a two-story ambulatory enclosing a central space beneath a great cupola.

Morsaic floor when you entered

Morsaic floor when you entered




Side panels

Side panels


side panel

side panel


Mosaic ceiling

Mosaic ceiling






Battistero Neoniano


Founded by the bishop Ursus, it was built before the transferral of the capital from Milan to Ravenna at the end of the 4th century.
The baptistery is a simple octagon brick building with four large niches spreading towards the exterior , whose floor is dominated by a marble arch, is famous for the mosaics in the cupola commissioned by Bishop Neonius.




The mosaic series of the cupola has three bands.
First band is the baptism of Christ.

The second band, which is the first large band that surrounds the medallion, represents the twelve apostles led by their respective leaders Peter and Paul.

The third band, of great iconological value, represents the heavenly garden in the Kingdom of god. It is a garden paradise where plants, birds and flowers triumph in refined and sensitive array.



Octagon marble basin of the baptistery in the centre.






Mausoleo di Galla Placidia



Galla Placidia (386-452), the Roman Emperor who moved the Capital of the  empire from Milan to Ravenna, built this little Latin cross plan Mausoleum around 425-450.

The cupola which symbolises the sky, contains the most expressive and well-known part of the decoration. Set in the intense blue and 570 golden stars of the sky is the glorious cross, the Christian symbol of the resurrection.


Upon entering the Mausoleum, you will feel a sudden transformation from day to night, with the deep blue sky and the shimmering golden stars.

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Basilica di S. Apollinare Nuovo

The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo was built in the 6th century . Outside the basilica, there is a marble portico and on the right side there is a cylindrical bell-tower of the 9th or 10th century, characteristic of the buildings in Ravenna.


The mosaics consist of 3 parts. The upper part contains 26 scenes, the most ancient extant mosaic series on the New Testament. On the right, we see life of Jesus.





The middle part consists of thirty-two figures of prophets, sixteen on each side.

The lower part commissioned by the Chancellery of Ravenna, contains mosaics that illustrate a magnificent procession of 22 male and female saints, each holding a symbolic crown. On the opposite wall, the twenty-six martyrs in white robes seem to form an infinitely long procession.





Battistero degli Ariani

This baptistery was built around the end of the 5th century when Theodoric had consolidated his rule.

Nothing has left on the walls except the dome which has a beautiful mosaic depicting the baptism of Christ and the 12 Apostles.IMG_3803 IMG_3800 IMG_3802 IMG_3801 IMG_3805



Basilica di S. Apollinare in Classe

This basilica is out of the Ravenna town centre and you can go there by taking  buses no. 4 or 44. There stops right outside the train station and also in Piazza dei Caduti. The bus ride is 15- 20 mins and once you see the basilica, then you can ring the bell to get off the bus.

The basilica is built around 532 AD, Bishop Ursicinus began construction on a church in honor of St. Apollinaris next to a Christian burial ground in Classe. It was consecrated by Bishop Maximian on May 9, 549.

This basilica is not included in the combined ticket and the entrance fee is 5 euro.





The basilica has a very spacious nave with side aisles. There are 58 windows, including five in the apse, flood the interior with light. The nave is supported on 24 slender marble columns .



The apse 6th century mosaic depicts two scenes that blend into each other. At the top is an interestingly symbolic depiction of the Transfiguration. Jesus Christ is represented by a golden cross on a starry blue background, while the three apostles who were present at the Transfiguration – Peter, James and John – are represented by lambs. Flanking the cross against a backdrop of golden skies and sunset-tinged clouds are figurative depictions of Moses and Elijah, labeled with their names.





The large cross is decorated with mosaic gems and a bust of Christ in the center. It has a Latin inscription at its base reading SALVS MVNDI, “Salvation of the World”



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Below this scene is the namesake of the basilica, St. Apollinaris, labeled with the inscription SANCTVS APOLENARIS. Around the saint is a soft green backdrop populated with rocks, birds, and plants.



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Basilica di San Francesco


This Basilica was constructed in the 5th century , dedicating to St Peter. During the late 8th century, buildings of the 5th century were being torn down to build a bigger church and it was at that time the church bell tower was constructed.

In 1261, the Franciscan friar minors lived here and was then dedicated to San Francesco d’Assisi. In 1321, Dante’s funeral was held in this basilica.

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The interior of the basilica is divided into a nave and two side aisles – a 10th century crypt is still visible through a window situated under the altar, that contains a 5th century sarcophagus.

There is a coin machine right beside the window of the crypt and you can light up the crypt for roughly 2 mins by inserting a 1 euro coin in it.
The crypt floor is submerged in water and yet it is still possible to catch glimpse of the mosaic fragments which decorated the pavement of the original church.


Although I have seen the beautiful mosaic works in La Martorana in Palermo, Sicily in which the whole of the interior of the church is covered with gold mosaic and the fantastic huge floor mosaic in Aquileia,  Friuli-Venezia Giulia,  all the magnificent mosaic works in Ravenna still amaze me.

If you appreciate mosaic works as much as I do, then Ravenna is a town not to be missed.



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