The mosaics in Ravenna are world famous, so if you like mosaics or early Christian monuments, consider including a stop in this lovely town in your Italy itinerary. The 2000+ year old city of Ravenna, located on the Adriatic coast a couple hours south of Venice, is a gem that is still mostly undiscovered by North American travelers. Stay in Ravenna itself or visit as a day trip from nearby towns such as Brisighella, San Marino, or Bologna.
The city has eight early Christian monuments that are included as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The mosaics in Ravenna are all of a religious nature, with saints, depictions of Bible stories, and colored with lots of gold.
Why are there so many incredible Byzantine mosaics in this small town? Currently, Ravenna isn’t a politically significant city in Italy, but in the year 402 it became the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Visiting the mosaics in Ravenna will give you a glimpse into the town’s very important and equally fascinating past.
The reason mosaics are so vibrant and spectacular even after 2,000 years is because they are made of pieces of glass, so the color doesn’t fade over time. First, the artist calculated exactly how many pieces of each color of glass were needed to create the (gigantic!) image. Then, each color of glass was created (or in the case of gold, layered with gold leaf) and then cut. And finally, a skilled artisan had to carefully attach it to the wall in exactly the right place.
Although Ravenna is definitely an off the beaten path destination for foreign tourists, it’s very popular with Italians. This means that travelers should expect lines and crowds at the sites. In theory, you could visit most of the sites in one day. It would be a long day, and you’d be absorbing a lot of important history and information. But if you prefer to focus on new information in smaller chunks of time, spread your visit out over a couple of days.
When we discuss Ravenna with Italy Beyond the Obvious travelers, the main questions we get are:
If you don’t need to see all of the sites or dig deep into the mosaics, it’s possible to do Ravenna as a day trip from, for example, Bologna. Spend 2 – 3 hours visiting sites, have lunch, then spend another 2 – 3 hours. Stick to the sites that can be visited by foot from the city center. If you’d like to see all the main sites, we recommend 2 full days.
You can get to Ravenna by train, although the city is not on a fast train route so you’ll probably have to change trains and get a slower one for the Ravenna leg. If you’re comfortable driving in Italy, it’s a good idea to get a rental car to visit Ravenna. Stay in the historic center so you can get around by foot, and book a place that includes parking. There are buses to the sites that are outside the city center so you can leave your car parked.
Ravenna is small, and most of it can be visited on foot. Some of the sites are outside the city center, so if you’ve rented a car, you could use it. Or, get around Ravenna by taxi, or use Italian public buses. In high season, there are shuttle buses that run between the sites. It’s a pretty major tourist attraction for Italians so you can definitely get around to the sites easily.
As you would with anywhere in Italy, check that places are open on the day of the week you’re planning to be there, but Ravenna is very visitor-friendly and a major tourist destination. Most of the monuments are open 7 days a week until 7 pm, and entry tickets are not expensive.
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