The UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List includes eight sites in Ravenna as superb examples of early Christian monuments and Late Antiquity mosaics.
The top sights to see in Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy are the eight early Christian monuments with Late Antiquity (or Byzantine) mosaics inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in 1996. Six of these monuments are in the old town center (and seen on a single combination ticket). The Mausoleum of Theodoric is a short walk from the town center while the large Church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe is a short drive away towards the Adriatic coast. All eight sites in Ravenna can be seen in a busy day but few would regret staying longer in this pleasant town.
The Neonian (Orthodox) Baptistery in Ravenna
The Orthodox Baptistery (also known as the Neonian Baptistery) is from the fifth century and the oldest of the numerous octagonal baptisteries and religious structures in Ravenna. Its mosaics have been over-restored during the nineteenth century but are still absolutely worth seeing.
The adjacent cathedral replaced the fifth-century basilica destroyed in 1734. It is of limited artistically value and despite its size not a major sight in Ravenna.
The Archiepiscopal Chapel in Ravenna
The early sixth-century Archbishop’s Chapel (also known as the Oratory of St Andreas) is seen inside the Archiepiscopal Museum. It is the smallest of the UNESCO-listed sights in Ravenna. The chapel is in a Greek cross form with mosaics on the vaults. It is the oldest private Christian oratory in existence.
The Arian Baptistery in Ravenna
The sixth-century Arian Baptistery is an octagon with its mosaics and iconography closely resembling that of the older and larger Neonian Baptistery.
In compliance with Ostrogothic King Theodoric’s ordinances, it was erected to give Arian believers a separate baptistery from those following the orthodox doctrine.
Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna
The sixth-century Sant’Apollinare Nuovo was the palatine (court) church of Theodoric and the mosaics here are amongst the highlights of visiting Ravenna.
Some mosaics were destroyed or altered to hide the ones too obviously Arian or praising Theodoric but there are still mosaics running the full length of the lateral walls of the nave.
Basilica San Vitale in Ravenna
The sixth-century San Vitale is also overwhelmingly beautiful. The oriental influences in the architecture and mosaics in this church are clearly visible to make it quite different from any other in the region.
The mosaics here are considered to be the largest and most important examples of Byzantine art outside Istanbul.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna
The mosaics in the fifth-century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia are the oldest in town and often considered the artistic highlight of Ravenna.
It may have the loveliest night sky ever produced in antiquity. Galla Placidia probably commissioned this small chapel in AD 425 although it was never used for her remains.
The Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna
The Mausoleum of Theodoric – the tomb of the Ostrogoth king who died in 526 – is slightly to the northeast of the old town across the railway line. It is a unique building with no style element truly linked to the Roman or Greek periods.
The structure is on two levels but the most impressive feature is probably the single round stone that serves as a roof to the tomb – it is still totally unknown how the stone was moved from Istria or how it was placed in that position. It is the only surviving tomb of a “barbarian king” from Late Antiquity.
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe is the largest Late Antiquity church in Ravenna. It is around 8 km outside the center of Ravenna in Classe, which used to be the second-largest naval base of the Roman Empire.
This brick church maintained its original appearance, as when it was consecrated in AD 549. It has a beautifully decorated interior with mosaics and frescoes. A small mosaic here may well be the first depiction of Satan in Western art.
- See Visiting UNESCO Listed Churches and Mosaics in Ravenna for opening hours and ticket information.