From Rome and Florence to Capri and Positano, Italy is home to several must-visit spots. Of course, the stunning European country also has plenty of less-visited destinations ranging from post-card perfect coastal escapades to charming hilltop villages.
While Northern Italy’s Ravenna is not really a hidden gem, it is definitely not a must-visit spot for most visitors either - and that was exactly why we decided to take a little detour from the more popular Bologna, just for a few days.
Located near the picturesque Adriatic coastline of Emilia-Romagna, Ravenna brims with beauty and history, diverse architectural wonders reflecting the multiple groups who have spent years in the city.
The former capital city of the mighty Western Roman Empire is not just home to exquisite mosaics and UNESCO-listed monuments but also serves some great food and even better wine.
On our visit to this heritage-steeped destination, we found out so much about this underrated and often overlooked Italian city - let’s dive in…shall we?
Ravenna, A Dream For Art And History Lovers: Here’s What Drew Us To This Stunning Italian City!
An art and history lover’s dream city, Ravenna is best known for its extensive mosaics. Originally the capital city of the powerful Western Roman Empire (from 402 until the empire collapsed in 476), today, Ravenna is home to not one or two but right world-heritage sites.
It was the city's proximity to the beautiful Adriatic Rivera and its solid reputation as a popular destination for great food that drew us there.
1. EIGHT World Heritage Sites:
Ravenna is home to eight world heritage sites. And that is one of the biggest reasons that drew us towards this North Italian city. We love sinking our toes deep in history, we love looking at art that was made thousands of years ago, and we love admiring great architecture. And if you can relate, then this beautiful but underrated Italian city is a must-visit for you.
The eight world heritage sites are as follows,
▢ The only chapel from the early Christian era to be entirely preserved is the Chapel of Sant'Andrea.
▢ Roman Emperor Honorius moved the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from Ravenna to Milan in 402 AD. The emperor’s sister, Galla Placidia, has a resting place in the city, even today - yes, we are talking about the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
▢Julian Argentarius was not just an architect but also a banker, and till date, he is credited for building the Basilica of San Vitale, another world heritage site here.
▢ The Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo displays 26 scenes in mosaic from the New Testament - these mosaic scenes are the oldest in the world and definitely a must-visit.
▢The Arian Baptistery and Neonian Baptistery’s plain yet octagonal-shaped brick exteriors beautifully disguise their opulent interiors.
▢ Theodoric the Great ruled the independent Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy from 493 AD till his death in 526 AD. He is credited for building the Mausoleum of Theodoric.
▢ The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare is the eighth world heritage site here - only it is not located in the main city, but rather in the countryside, around five miles away from the main city, but it is most definitely worth visiting.
2. The Divine Tomb Of Dante Alighieri:
Most of us on the editing team of Dream & Travel are English majors - and there is no way you are an English major or just a classical literature enthusiast and haven’t heard about Dante Alighieri.
Yes, in 1813, The Divine Comedy’s author, Dante Alighieri, was exiled to Ravenna from Florence. Interestingly, he finished the final section of his iconic work, Paradise. After his death, Dante was buried in a graveyard beside the world-heritage site, San Francesco Basilica.
Rumor has it that somebody actually stole the dead author’s bones after his burial. These bones were taken to Florence for reburial. However, the intricate tomb in Ravenna suggests otherwise.
3. Gourmet And Gastronomy:
The entire Emilia-Romagna region, particularly the city of Bologna, has been loved for its many culinary delights. But we often tend to forget about Ravenna and how much it has to offer.
Our favorite meals here included traditional and mouthwatering Romagnoli dishes at a former place from the 15th century called Ca’ de Ven and pizzas with fluffy, thick bases at a comparatively newer place called Casa Spadoni.
We loved watching the piadina (a classic and delicious Romagna flatbread) getting prepared on a stove near our table at Ca’ de Ven.
Marlin, the new restaurant located at Terme Beach Resort, opened a few years ago. The place offers a changing menu featuring seafood and fresh fish caught by local fishermen daily. We ate an absolutely delish seafood salad, followed by our all-time favorite Spaghetti alle Vongole (Spaghetti + local clams) and equally delicious pasta with tuna ragout.
After spending a lazy day exploring the museums in Forli, we stopped at a grocery store called Eataly. Eataly stocks the best of Italian cuisine. This is where we came across a hidden restaurant called Trattoria di Giuliana inside Eataly. We stopped at Trattoria di Giuliana for lunch. Herenjoyed fresh local dishes at a table that overlooked Forli’s main square.
While we had a fun, fruity, and definitely gastronomic affair with Ravenna, how can we forget about our favorite fruit (grapes) and its connection to this beautiful Italian city?
Ravenna is well-known for its sparkling red wine, also known as Lambrusco and Sangiovese, as ideal accompaniments to fish, meat, and pasta.
4. The Ravenna Music Festival:
The Ravenna Music Festival, now in its 33rd year, features jazz, classical, and world music in attractive venues.
Some of our favorite venues are as follows:
- the monastic library’s internal courtyard called Chiostro della Biblioteca Classense,
- the National Museum’s refectory with its stunning 14-th century frescoes, and
- the Basilica San Vitale covered with mosaics from the 5th and 6th century.
Every year, the festival goes on for two months - it starts in May and ends in July.
If you step out on a mosaic tour, then you must make two stops,
- Mausoleum of Galla Placida, and
- Basilica of San Vitale.
In the late 1920s, Cole Porter had visited Ravenna. He was so inspired by the beautiful night sky mosaic of the Mausoleum. It was featuring 900 glittering stars that he wrote his legendary song, Night and Day.
You must also check out the mosaics located below a church from the 18th century. It is now known as the House of the Stone Carpets. This former Byzantine palace has fourteen rooms, all covered with mosaics. This is one of the most essential archaeological discoveries recently.
Ravenna’s Ode To Art, Culture, And Architecture:
Ravenna is a paradise for art, history, and architecture enthusiasts.
While we were wandering across the unassuming city, it seemed impossible to imagine Ravenna's glorious past. The capital city of the powerful Western Roman Empire, the primary city of the Ostrogoth Kingdom, and the nexus of the mighty Byzantine exarchate, spanning three centuries.
This was a golden period for the city while the rest of Italy struggled with the terrible Barbarian invasions. During this time, Ravenna evolved into a fertile art paradise for expert artisans. These artisans skillfully covered the terracotta brick churches of the city with beautiful mosaics.
Share your thoughts, stories, and more about Ravenna or similar places in Northern Italy in the comments below.
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