Weekend in Ravenna, the keeper of Byzantine Splendor

Weekend in Ravenna, the keeper of Byzantine Splendor

Whether you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway or a cultural diversion from the hedonistic activities of Rimini and Cattolica, Ravenna has it all.

Just a stone’s throw from the Riviera Romagnola, nestled between the fertile fruit trees of Romagna and the sandy beaches of the Adriatic, Ravenna and its singular history offer myriad activities for culture vultures.

A quick history lesson

While its origins are unsure, Ravenna became a powerhouse when it was named as the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until that Empire’s collapse in 476. It briefly served as the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom until it was re-conquered in 540 by the Byzantine Empire, remaining under its influence until 751 when the Lombards conquered it. These 300 odd years under Byzantine rule elevated Ravenna to an incredibly important cultural hub, and one of the keepers of Byzantine heritage today.

Tourists, historians, and artists flock to Ravenna to admire the eight buildings comprising the UNESCO World Heritage Site Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna, with their distinct dimensions and mesmerizing mosaics.

Here are some tips for exploring the city and its surroundings.

1. Take a tour of the 8 UNESCO World Heritage Site for Early Christian Monuments

The best way to take in all these monuments is a walking tour around the center of the town, while of incredible historical importance, Ravenna is of a very reasonable size, especially the center. The Basilica of San Vitale and Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, both in the same complex, are a true sight to behold, while one of the most iconic mosaics in Ravenna runs along the nave of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. Also, the eight UNESCO sites include the Baptistry of Neon, the Arian Baptistry, the Mausoleum of Theoderic, and Archiepiscopal Chapel. Further from town is the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, the original resting place of Saint Apollinaire’s relics, which were later moved to the central church due to the constant pirate raids from the Adriatic Sea.

2. Dante’s Final Resting Place

Ravenna is also a point of interest for literature lovers, as Dante Alighieri took his final breaths here in 1321. After his exile from Florence, Dante roamed the Italian City States until he found refuge in Ravenna, where he spent the last three years of his life. As well as a pilgrimage to the poet’s tomb, it’s worth stopping by the Basilica di San Francesco, where his funeral took place. While unassuming, compared to the great Byzantine Basilicas, San Francesco houses a 10th-century crypt whose floor is completely submerged in water, an eerily magical backdrop for admiring the beautiful floor mosaics.

3. Culinary Delicacies

With all the sightseeing, it’s important to pinpoint on the map where to head to for a delicious pit stop. An unmissable experience is the cavernous Ca’ de Vèn. Here, surrounded by original furniture and many locals you can stop by for an antipasto of piadina, salumi, and squacquerone (a delicious, slightly acidic soft cheese typical of Romagna) or go all out with a traditional plate of cappelletti (tortellini – like pasta with a cheese filling and often served with ragu) all washed down with sparkling red Lambrusco or a full-bodied Sangiovese – both grapes are indigenous to the region. For a classier meal, head to the traditional Antica Trattoria al Gallo, or if you’re looking for a more modern approach to regional cuisine, L’Osteria del Tempo Perso, where the host’s love for jazz plays into the décor and provides a diverting soundtrack to your meal. Ubiquitous in Italy, there’s plenty of spots for an aperitivo, many of which are al fresco where you can sample a Spritz under the stars. If you’re looking for a big night out, head to Milano Marittima – a well-known coastal party town just 20 minutes from Ravenna, and join the line to get into Club Pineta, a favorite of Italian footballers and their WAGs, or the Papeete Beach Club. If you’re in town during the Summer Marina di Ravenna’s many beach club play music and serve alcohol well into the early hours.

4. Further Afield

If you’ve got a few more days in the area, why not head for a day of fun at Mirabilandia? Let the child inside of you run loose – or take the kids to the amusement park which boasts the highest roller coaster in Europe. If you need a day of relaxation, the Terme di Riolo is the place for you – a stone’s throw from Ravenna and a haven to indulge in a treat for the body, after having fed your mind with the cultural delights Ravenna has to offer.

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