Years ago when we were in Italy we asked all of our Italian friends what cities we should visit in Italy. Each and every time our friends would tell us we had to visit Ravenna. They would tell us about the mosaics and promise we would be impressed by the craftsmanship, the art and the beauty. It is a big promise in a country where every town we visited impressed us.
When I was planning the month in Italy I couldn’t overlook Ravenna so I booked a few days there on our way from Venice to our last stop of Lucca. I was glad to have Ravenna to look forward to as I sadly boarded the train leaving Venice. (It is a 3 hour train ride from Venice to Ravenna or a 2 and a half hour drive.)
At first when we arrived and headed out to find an afternoon snack I was worried I had made a mistake. The town looked small and a bit unassuming, maybe the three days I had scheduled here were too much. We arrived during Riposo (or siesta) which meant all of the stores were closed and most people were at home. We found a nice place to get a snack and start to plan our visit. The thing about Ravenna is that it is easy to underestimate this quiet town because it so unassuming. However once you start exploring and researching you find there is a lot to see and do, and that no matter how many churches you have seen in your life you won’t be rushing through the incredible ones in Ravenna.
That night we headed out to a restaurant I had read about online, the tables were set out on a quaint street off of the main piazza. The walls were painted with a cute mural of all different people riding bikes. The tables lit with candles while we drank wine and watched people walk by. It was quite romantic and the food was absolutely delicious. We walked back home through the Piazza del Popolo amid the locals and tables full of people eating and drinking. I believe it was at this point I started my love affair with Ravenna.
The next morning we began our tour of the eight Byzantium UNESCO sites. I was prepared for beautiful ancient mosaics, but I honestly had no idea how incredibly moving they would be. The mosaics are made of tiny little tiles in vibrant colors including gold, each depicting gorgeous scenes from the bible. It was hard for me to comprehend how these buildings had survived since the 5th and 6th centuries. My favorites were the Basilica San Vitale which was not only filled with mosaic domes but huge slabs of the most amazing stones, and mosaic tile floors. I walked around the basilica so many times, not wanting to leave.
The Arian Baptistry was also incredible. The small building was completely filled with intricate mosaics including the disciples. We sat in the seats lining the walls of the baptistry studying each of mosaics individually and as a whole. I was completely entranced by their delicate beauty.
My other favorite is the most ancient building in Ravenna, the Neonian Baptistry, is filled with more intricate mosaics, filling the dome and entrancing everyone who enters. We spent a few hours in the National Museum, being blown away by the treasures within and another room of gorgeous mosaics.
When we weren’t touring the Byzantine buildings we spent our time walking through town checking out the great shopping, adorable boutiques and enjoying some of the best gelato we have ever eaten. We found the tomb of Dante Alighieri.
The people of Ravenna, are friendly, kind and incredibly proud of their city. They keep true to their Italian roots and are happy to share them with the few tourists who stay.
On our last night, as the rain drizzled down we spent the evening in a wine bar drinking in some great wine, and the beautiful city surrounding us. When you order wine at the bars they bring full plates of cheese and meats to enjoy so we made dinner out of the appetizers and watched the locals walking through the rain, arm in arm under umbrellas.
Ravenna is incredibly romantic, the way you envision an untouched Italian city to be. It was welcoming, and easy to get around on foot.
While a lot of blogs and guide books will tell you you can make Ravenna a day trip from Rome I think you will miss a lot if you don’t give Ravenna more than part of a day. I would recommend at least two days there.