Less than two hours from Bologna by car and just a few miles from the Adriatic Sea, Ravenna is a small, historic city that is packed with hidden gems. Here are some reasons why you should visit:
Not only is there great cycling all around Ravenna, but the city itself can be easily explored by bike. There are limited traffic zones and some areas with bike paths. Rental bikes are plentiful and the city has a bike sharing program. Many locals prefer a bicycle to other modes of transportation.
In 1318 Dante was exiled from his native Florence and settled in Ravenna where he finished Paradise, the last book of the Divine Comedy. When he died in 1321, Dante was buried in a graveyard beside the San Francesco Basilica in Ravenna.
Eventually the city of Florence regretted Dante’s exile and on several occasions requested the return of his remains. These requests were always refused. In 1519 Pope Leo X ordered the bones be transferred back to Florence and he was also refused. The Franciscan monks in charge of Dante’s remains secretly removed them from the tomb and hid them in their monastery. They sent an empty coffin to Florence.
Somehow, over time, Dante’s remains ended up in the walls of the church near the tomb and couldn’t be found. It wasn’t until 1865 during renovations at the church the the hidden bones were discovered, almost 350 years after they had first been taken out of the tomb. Today, the remains are back in the tomb in a simple, marble mausoleum.
Unesco World Heritage
Ravenna boasts eight Unesco World Heritage sites, and most of them can be visited within walking/cycling distance from one another.
Ravenna was the seat of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of Byzantine Italy until the 8th century. It has a unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments. All eight buildings – the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neonian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Church of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe – were constructed in the 5th and 6th centuries. They show great artistic skill, including a wonderful blend of Graeco-Roman tradition, Christian iconography and oriental and Western styles.
- The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia was meant to be the resting place of Galla Placidia, the sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius who had transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna in 402 AD.
- The Neonian Baptistery's and Arian Baptistery's plain octagonal shaped brick exteriors disguise their lavish interiors.
- The Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo features 26 mosaic scenes from the New Testament, the oldest in the world.
- The Chapel of Sant'Andrea is the only chapel of the early Christian era that is still fully preserved.
- The Mausoleum of Theodoric was built by Theodoric the Great (d. 526 AD) while a banker and architect, Julian Argentarius, was responsible for Basilica of San Vitale.
- The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare, is in the countryside about five miles from Ravenna but definitely worth a look.
Everywhere you turn in Ravenna, there are 5th and 6th-century mosaics. Two buildings that are must-sees on any mosaic tour of the city are the Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placida. On a visit to Ravenna in the 1920s, Cole Porter viewed the night sky mosaic in the Mausoleum and this inspired him to write Night and Day.
Another notable site is the House of the Stone Carpets. This former Byzantine palace has fourteen rooms that are covered with mosaics, making this one of the most important archaeological discoveries in recent years.
The lively, pedestrian zones are filled with cafes and bars that are perfect for an aperitivo and people watching. Wander along the cobblestone streets and get lost searching for mosaics.
On our Chef Bike Tour in Romagna, we spend a night in this lovely city and give you a late start the following morning in order to enjoy some of the city’s treasures. We also have dinner in the magical Antica Trattoria al Gallo.