The tomb of Ostrogoth King Theodoric in Ravenna is a unique construction in a town famous for its early Christian monuments and Byzantine mosaics.
The Mausoleum of Theodoric is one of eight sites in Ravenna inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. In contrast to the other early Christian monuments, which are rightly famous for its Byzantine mosaics, the Mausoleum of Theodoric is important mostly as being the only surviving tomb from a “barbarian” king from late-Roman, pre-Middle Ages period. The inside of the mausoleum is bare – many visitors may be satisfied with a free peak over the fence.
The Mausoleum of Theodoric the Great in Ravenna
Theodoric the Great was an Ostrogothic king that ruled Italy from AD 493 to 526. Considered a barbarian – as the Ostrogoths originated from outside the borders of the Roman Empire – the rule of Theodoric and the monumental buildings he erected in Ravenna exemplify why the term “barbarian” can be confusing when used as modern term for a savage or uncivilized person.
Theodoric himself almost certainly ordered the construction of the tomb in a Gothic graveyard outside the Ravenna city walls and thus today it is still a short walk out of the town center (and over the railway line). He was entombed here after his death in AD 526 but his body was removed in AD 561 after Justinian condemned Arianism. (See The Arian Baptistery in Ravenna for more on Theodoric and Arians.)
The mausoleum subsequently became an oratory and also served as a lighthouse. Silting caused by the nearby river saw the mausoleum mostly submerged until the nineteenth century.
In contrast to other monuments in Ravenna from this period, the Mausoleum of Theodoric was built from carved stone (and not brick or large stone blocks). The stones were imported from Istria, including the solid circular stone that forms the roof of the building. This roof stone is 11 m in diameter and around a meter thick – it remains unclear how this 230-ton stone was transported from Istria or lifted onto the top of the building.
The mausoleum is in two stories with a diameter of around 4.4 m. The lower floor is ten sided and has several spaces for tombs but is now completely empty.
The second floor is reached via a modern external staircase. This room is also bare except for a simple bathtub-like structure of porphyry stone. It was long described as the grave of Theodoric but considerably doubt exists if this was ever used for that purpose. Theodoric almost certainly had a more elaborate tomb of marble.
See Mausoleum des Theoderich for a very detailed description in German of the monument.
Visiting the Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna
The Mausoleum of Theodoric is slightly outside the town center of Ravenna but still within easy walking distance – cross the railway line to a large park. (Parking is available right in front of the monument.)
Tickets (€4) are sold in a small building next to the entrance but many visitors may be content with the free view available across the fence. A long walkway and detour towards the monument is littered with metalwork that presumable previously contained information boards but now are empty and just contribute to the feeling that the monument is unloved and not a priority.
- See Visiting the UNESCO-Listed Sites in Ravenna for more details on opening hours and admission tickets.
The Mausoleum of Theodoric certainly is of historical and artistic importance but if pressed for time, it probably should have the lowest priority when seeing the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites in Ravenna.