Seat of the former Byzantine government in Italy
Another weekend starting with a flight to Bologna, the nearest international airport to Ravenna, our first of the three cities planned this time, all of them UNESCO World Heritage sites. A bit exceptional in the case of Parma which we would visit the following day, since it is the first city in Italy to be awarded UNESCO’s Creative City for Gastronomy. From the beautiful city of Bologna it’s 84 kilometres to the east to Ravenna, right by the Adriatic coast of Italy; and it’s the perfect start of the day to later continue visiting the city of Ferrara, 78 kilometres northwest along the beautiful drive by the coast for the first section.
Ravenna is a very small city, and as such, easy to visit quick without hassle hence why it is worth to include other places nearby to complete the day. The main reason to visit this city are the eight early Christian monuments inscribed in the World Heritage List. And since the old city centre is very compact, half a day visit is good enough for seeing everything.
Other than the important monuments, the city itself is as of any Italian city, nice and beautiful, with plenty of cafes and restaurants serving great and inexpensive food. Finding a good place it not difficult at all; all of them are great, and none of them seemed to be any tourist trap. After all, the city is quite overseen by tourists, so do not expect to see here hordes nor groups as you would expect in other cities.
Not much more to be said for this brief introduction, so I give way to the important listing of what to see below. For more information about Ravenna check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Ravenna
- Early Christian monuments of Ravenna All of which listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site, and reason number one for visiting this city.
-Orthodox Baptistery Or Baptistery of Neon, built in late 4th century or beginning of the 5th by Bishop Ursus as part of his great Basilica. Made of bricks, the octagonal design of the building follow the design of most early Christian baptisteries symbolising the seven days of the week plus the Day of the Resurrection and Eternal Life. The ceiling mosaic is outstanding.
-Mausoleum of Galla Placidia Described by the UNESCO as the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments. In origin was the oratory of the Church of the Holy Cross, then a mausoleum for three sarcophagus, one of which supposedly contained the remains of Galla Placidia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I who died in 450DCE. Inside it is entirely covered in mosaics.
-Arian Baptistry Built at the end of the 5th/beginning of the 6th century DCE as part of a larger complex of buildings now not existing. Made in bricks in octagonal shape, with great attention to the mosaics decorating the inside.
-Archiepiscopal Chapel Located on the first floor of the Bishops’ Palace. It is the only Early Christian private oratory that has survived to the present day hence its importance, bearing its otherwise reduced size.
-Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo Erected by Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great as his palace chapel in the 6th century DCE. It contains impressive mosaics all over the walls, columns and ceilings.
-Basilica of San Vitale One of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe. Completed in 548 DCE. The presbytery is overwhelming with such impressive mosaic work.
-Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe As UNESCO classifies it: an outstanding example of the early Christian basilica in its purity and simplicity of its design and use of space and in the sumptuous nature of its decoration. Erected in the 6th century DCE.
-Mausoleum of Theoderic Built in 520 DCE by Theoderic the Great as his future tomb. Located outside of the city. It is the only surviving example of a tomb of a king of this period.
- Brancaleone Castle Built in 1457 by the Venetians when the city was in the hands of the Venetian Empire.
- Teatro Comunale Alighieri Inaugurated in 1852 and designed in neoclassical style.
Although there is an airport 20 kilometres from the city, it currently does not serve any international routes, nor probably national ones. The nearest international airports are Bologna and Rimini, both well connected to Ravenna by rail and road. From Bologna, where we landed on a British Airways flight, it is less than 1 hour by car, and 1.15h by train.
Coming by train or bus from nearby cities is straightforward. With frequent connections to Bologna, Rimini, Ferrara and beyond it is the fastest way to reach if you are not renting a car. You can do the circle Bologna-Ravenna-Ferrara and back to Bologna in a day using public transportation.
Within the city you have nothing to worry since distances are very small and all the sights are near each other, hence walking is your best (and only) choice. Most of the streets are pedestrianised.
I cannot recommend this time any hotel in the city as we did not stay over at Ravenna since we decided to make our base at Bologna and commute from there to our three destinations for this weekend: Ravenna, Ferrara and Parma. While the three cities are quite small, Bologna in the other hand is big with a choice of hotels much larger and with better deals.
Hotels in the city can be, in any case, higher than what you expected, but we found a great deal with British Airways when booking the flight and hotel together. This is something we are doing now more often, since you can get incredible deals that cannot be beaten if booking separately, not to mention that you get more air-miles this way. In any case, if you only need to book a hotel, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the AC Hotel Bologna by Marriott, in 28 Via Sebastiano Serlio, meters from the central train station and 15 minutes’ walk to the beginning of the historic old town. A great choice in every sense. Location, comfort, staff and nice breakfast. And perfect for making your base to visit the cities nearby since the train and bus station are next door, or if you rent a car, easy free parking along the street. For a guide of Bologna with further details on accommodation of the time we visited this city, check the guide here.