Ravenna Attractions

While this city is only about 60 miles south of Venice, it is a bit off the beaten tourist path. However, there are extremely worthwhile sights in Ravenna that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It is the Byzantine history in Ravenna Italy that is the draw, and the most outstanding things to see in Ravenna can pretty much be summed up in one word—churches.

The eight primary Ravenna attractions are early Christian and Byzantine structures dating back to the sixth century when Christianity was still quite young. They are renowned for their brilliantly colored, detailed, and well-preserved mosaics—the best in all of Western Europe, rivaling anything to be found in the glorious capital of Byzantium, Istanbul in Turkey.

These eight churches are the things to see in Ravenna and together comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When listing these structures as World Heritage Sites, UNESCO cited the extraordinary “artistry of the mosaics” and “crucial evidence of artistic and religious relationships…at an important period of European history.” The city was three times a seat of the Roman Empire, and the Emperor Justinian transformed it into a center of the Byzantine Empire. It was a bright spot of culture, civilization, and religion when the rest of Europe was plodding through the drab Dark Ages. Two of these Ravenna attractions are actually mausoleums—the Mausoleum of Theodoric and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (located behind the Church of San Vitale, another of the UNESCO sites).

The city was known in Roman times as Classe and its patron saint was Apollonaire. Two of the UNESCO sights in Ravenna are dedicated to this saint. The Basilica of Sant Apollonaire Nuovo is located in the city center. The Basilica of Sant Apollonaire in Classe is located, appropriately, in the suburb of Classe about four miles south of city center. The other three structure, all clustered in the city center, are the Arian Baptistry, the Neonian Baptistry, and the Archepiscopal Chapel.

There are other things to see in Ravenna in the vicinity of the churches. The town center is graced by the elegant Piazza del Popolo built during Venetian rule, which has fascinating museums, including the Dante Museum dedicated to Dante Aligheri who wrote Paradiso, died and is buried here, and dining spots. For special events, you can visit from June to September, when weeknights offer Mosaico de Notte, guided tours of the best mosaic Ravenna attractions after dark. Normally, you are only able to view them in the daylight hours. Also, check out the beautiful covered market, Mercato Coperto.

The main trains between Florence and Venice are only about 90 minutes away. Most people come to see the sights in Ravenna only as a day trip from one of these to better-known cities, or from Bologna. But if you want a quiet and untouristy visit, find one of the Ravenna hotels and stay for a few days. Ravenna is both pedestrian and cycle friendly. The itineraries for many northern Italy bicycle tours visit this city. Individual admission into the UNESCO structures in the center of the city can be steep. It pays to purchase a combo ticket that allows admission into all of them and some other Ravenna attractions for a very reasonable fee.

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