Ravenna Introduction Walking Tour, Ravenna

Ravenna Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Ravenna

Ravenna may not appear on everyone’s Italy wish list like Venice or Rome, but it’s worth visiting during your Italian holiday. Often referred to as the "capital of mosaics", the city is known for its well-preserved late Roman and Byzantine architecture comprising the UNESCO World Heritage Site ("Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna").

Initially settled by the Umbri people, the area of Ravenna came under Roman control in 89 BC. The origin of the name itself remains uncertain, with theories linking it to "Rasenna" (or "Rasna"), the term used by the Etruscans for themselves.

Roman Emperor Octavian built the military harbor of Classis at Ravenna, and the city, although inland as such, remained an important seaport on the Adriatic until the early Middle Ages. It prospered under imperial rule and for most of the 5th century, served as the capital of the Western Roman Empire until its collapse in 476. Following that, it became the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom and then Byzantine Italy.

After brief Lombard control, the city came under the authority of the Papacy and remained so until 1861, when it joined the Kingdom of Italy. During World War II, Ravenna suffered severe damage, seeing some of its unequaled early Christian art destroyed by Allied bombing. Among the early Christian artistry that survived is the Baptistery of Neon.

Ravenna boasts an array of stunning religious edifices. The magnificent Ravenna Cathedral (Duomo di Ravenna) is one such. The Basilica of Saint Apollinaris the New (Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo) and the Basilica of San Vitale are the true masterpieces of mosaic craftsmanship. Also noteworthy is the Arian Baptistery (Battistero degli Ariani).

Another jewel of Byzantine art is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

As you explore Ravenna, don't miss the Tomb of Dante, honoring the famed poet Dante Alighieri, and the Dante Museum (Museo Dante), offering insights into his life and work.

Also, Cavour Street (Via Cavour) is where you can immerse yourself in the local culture and indulge in delightful Italian cuisine.

You can think of Ravenna as a hidden gem that you didn’t know existed, but which unveils incredibly precious jewels once you open it. Each of its relics is a chapter in Ravenna's profound narrative. To the curious at heart Ravenna promises a rewarding and enlightening experience that can leave you with cherished memories. So, plan your visit today and embark on a voyage through this timeless Italian gem!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Ravenna Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Ravenna Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Ravenna (See other walking tours in Ravenna)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza del Popolo (People's Square)
  • Duomo di Ravenna (Ravenna Cathedral)
  • Baptistery of Neon
  • Archiepiscopal Museum
  • Tomb of Dante
  • Museo Dante (Dante Museum)
  • Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Basilica of Saint Apollinaris the New)
  • Battistero degli Ariani (Arian Baptistery)
  • Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
  • Basilica of San Vitale
  • Via Cavour (Cavour Street)
Piazza del Popolo (People's Square)

1) Piazza del Popolo (People's Square)

Piazza del Popolo is the vibrant heart of the city of Ravenna. For more than seven centuries, it has served as the location of powerhouses such as the town hall and the prefecture building, which once hosted the Papal Legation. This square has remained a central gathering point for the city's residents and continues to exude a lively atmosphere throughout the day, thanks in part to its open-air cafés. Piazza del Popolo is a critical crossroads, as it serves as the meeting point for numerous central streets.

The square's origins can be traced back to the latter part of the 13th century, a period during which the Da Polenta family held sway over the city. The current dimensions of the square took shape in the years 1470-80 when Ravenna came under Venetian rule.

The square, originally known as Piazza del Comune and later as Piazza Maggiore in documents from the Modern Age, was named after Vittorio Emanuele II following the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy. Over the course of the past six centuries, the square has witnessed the addition of various structures intended to serve the needs of political power. The municipal building, currently known as Palazzo Merlato, was entirely reconstructed in 1681 and expanded from 1761 onwards. It now serves as the administrative seat of the municipal government.

In 1696, Palazzo Apostolico, enlarged on the orders of Cardinal Legate Francesco Barberini, also underwent comprehensive renovations and presently houses the Prefecture.

Other noteworthy civic structures in the square include the former headquarters of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, designed by architect Camillo Morigia and connected to the prefecture by a grand arch. There is also Palazzo dei Rasponi del Sale, which today accommodates a banking institution.

Palazzo della Torre dell’Orologio, built on the ruins of the religious complex of the churches of San Marco and San Sebastiano, is another striking edifice in the square. Over the years, it has served various purposes, from the central customs office in 1798 to the city's first cinema in 1907, and finally, the first Casa del Fascio in Ravenna from 1928 to 1939.
Duomo di Ravenna (Ravenna Cathedral)

2) Duomo di Ravenna (Ravenna Cathedral)

Ravenna Cathedral, officially known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, holds profound ecclesiastical significance as it serves as the episcopal seat of the Archdiocese of Ravenna-Cervia.

The cathedral, as it stands today, is the result of a comprehensive transformation that unfolded in the 18th century. This ambitious project entailed the demolition of the ancient Ursiana basilica, the former cathedral, and the construction of a new one, elegantly styled in the Baroque architectural tradition.

Elevated to the status of a minor basilica by Pope John XXIII on October 7, 1960, the Ravenna Cathedral holds a special place within the community, acting as the parish seat of San Giovanni in Fonte, under the jurisdiction of the Urban Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Ravenna-Cervia.

The history of this cathedral is intrinsically linked to the relocation of the Western Roman Empire's capital from Milan to Ravenna, a momentous shift scheduled for the year 402. This change also resulted in the transfer of the bishop's seat from Classe, a nearby town. The transition of power, as well as the construction of the new cathedral, was orchestrated under the guidance of Bishop Orso.

The cathedral was consecrated on April 3, 407, and dedicated to the Resurrection of Jesus, known in ancient Greek as Hagìa Anástasis. This dedication, coupled with the name of its founder, led to the cathedral being known as the "Ursiana basilica."

In its early Christian style, the cathedral featured a rectangular layout, measuring approximately 60 meters in length and 35 meters in width. This design included a central hall devoid of a transept, divided into five naves. The four lateral naves were of equal width, while the central nave was as broad as the two lateral ones. The architecture was characterized by round arches, with fifteen arches on each side, supported by marble columns.

The overall design of the cathedral bore a remarkable resemblance to the architectural structures of the Basilica Maior of Milan, founded around 350, and the Basilica C of Nicopolis in Epirus, constructed in the mid-6th century.
Baptistery of Neon

3) Baptistery of Neon (must see)

The Baptistery of Neon is a significant Roman religious structure and the oldest surviving monument in the city. It was constructed during the late Western Roman Empire, at the end of the 4th or beginning of the 5th century, under the patronage of Bishop Ursus. Bishop Neon completed the baptistery's construction at the end of the 5th century and added its stunning mosaic decorations.

The baptistery is an octagonal building made of brick and was originally part of a larger basilica, which was unfortunately destroyed in 1734. Over time, the ground level has risen, burying the original floor about three meters underground. Despite this, the structure's octagonal design, a common feature in early Christian baptisteries, symbolizes the seven days of the week, along with the Day of the Resurrection and Eternal Life.

Inside, the ceiling mosaic portrays John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, who is depicted with a beard and standing waist-deep in the Jordan River. The Jordan River is personified as Zeus in the mosaic. Encircling the central mosaic, there is a procession of the twelve apostles moving in two directions, culminating in the meeting of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

The Baptistery of Neon is one of the eight structures in Ravenna designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is often considered the finest and most complete surviving example of an early Christian baptistery. The mosaic art within the baptistery reflects the influence of Greco-Roman art and maintains a fluid representation of the human figure, making it an essential part of early Christian heritage.
Archiepiscopal Museum

4) Archiepiscopal Museum

The Archiepiscopal Museum is a repository of early Christian relics from Ravenna, including fragments of mosaics from the first cathedral church and the chapel of Sant'Andrea, which dates back to the Gothic kingdom.

Upon entering the museum's main room, visitors encounter lapidary inscriptions, such as "Here lies in peace that eminent man Seda the Eunuch", who served as the 'Bedchamberlain' to Theodoric the Great and was buried in 541 AD. Adjacent to this inscription, near the window, there is a reliquary for the martyred saints Quiricus and Julietta. Their remains were transported from Tarsus, the birthplace of Saint Paul, to Auxerre and later to Ravenna.

A remarkable marble rosette on the facing wall serves as a Paschal calendar from the 6th century. Its purpose was to establish the date of the movable feast of Easter so that it could be celebrated simultaneously throughout Christendom. This was a challenging task because the Eastern and Western churches used different calendars, with the Eastern Church following the Hebrew lunar calendar and the Western Church adhering to the sun's cycle.

The museum features mosaics, which are fragments of what once adorned the apse of the first church. These mosaics date from the early 12th century, and while they are not original Roman works, they are of historical and artistic significance. The most well-preserved mosaic in this collection is that of the Madonna, shown in a prayerful pose in the Eastern tradition.

One of the museum's prized possessions is the Ivory Cathedra, which served as the bishop's seat during the Byzantine era in the 6th century. It is considered one of the finest examples of ivory carving in Western art. This exquisite piece is located in the tower of Porta Salustra, which was the Roman gateway guarding the southern entrance along the Cardis.

The museum also houses the private chapel of the bishop, constructed during the time of Theodoric at the end of the 5th century. This chapel is dedicated to Sant'Andrea (Saint Andrew) and features a central representation of the Word in the form of the initials of Christ. This symbolic feature reaffirms the Orthodox creed and signifies its continuity during a period when the Arians held dominance in Ravenna.
Tomb of Dante

5) Tomb of Dante

The Tomb of Dante is a neoclassical national monument constructed in 1781. It stands over the tomb of the renowned poet Dante Alighieri and is located next to the Basilica of San Francesco in central Ravenna.

The monument is surrounded by a "zona dantesca," where visitors are expected to maintain a solemn and respectful atmosphere. Adjacent to the monument, there is a small garden traditionally known as the Quadrarco di Braccioforte. The garden was originally a monastic cloister but now features a colonnade on one side. Its name comes from the historical event where two individuals invoked the "strong arm" of Christ to guarantee their contract, leading to the painting of that arm on the arch.

Dante spent the final years of his life in Ravenna and passed away there in 1321. His funeral took place in the cloister of the basilica, then a Franciscan monastery known as the Church of San Pier Maggiore, later renamed Basilica di San Francesco. He was initially interred outside the cloister, near the roadside, within an ancient Roman sarcophagus, where he continues to rest. In the late 15th century, Bernardo Bembo, the Venetian podestà of Ravenna, relocated the sarcophagus to the western side of the cloister.

Florence, Dante's hometown, began making requests to have his remains returned to their city, with the support of Pope Leo X and Pope Clement VII, both of whom were members of the Medici family. Despite an initial permission granted by Pope Leo X in 1519 to move the sarcophagus to Florence, the Franciscans had already clandestinely transferred Dante's bones to another location within the cloister, and when the Tuscan delegation arrived, they discovered the sarcophagus to be empty. It was then moved back into the cloister, where it was carefully guarded.

In 1921, a bronze garland was added to the foot of the sarcophagus in memory of those who perished in World War I. A marble plaque to the right of the sarcophagus describes its various restorations, and an iron gate to the adjacent garden was designed by the Venetian artist Umberto Bellotto. Dante's bones were concealed once again during World War II to protect them from potential destruction during bombings. They were interred in the garden from March 1944 until December 19, 1945, after which they were returned to the monument, now marked with a plaque.

The monument itself underwent restoration in 2006-2007, which included a complete repainting of its facades.
Museo Dante (Dante Museum)

6) Museo Dante (Dante Museum)

Situated not far from the final resting place of the Supreme Poet, the Dante Museum offers an immersive exploration of the life, works, and enduring legacy of Dante Alighieri, the illustrious figure often referred to as the father of the Italian language. This remarkable museum is located on the first floor of the former Franciscan convent, creating an intimate and enlightening journey into the world of Dante.

The origins of the Dante Museum trace back to its inauguration in 1921, commemorating the 600th anniversary of the poet's passing. The museum's establishment was a collaborative effort between Ambrogio Annoni, the then Superintendent of Ravenna, and Corrado Ricci, a distinguished architect from Ravenna. Initially, the museum served as a repository for relics and memorabilia that belonged to the municipality. It housed plaques and various items sent from around the world to celebrate Dante in 1908 and 1921.

The Dante Museum comprises several rooms, each contributing to an emotionally charged odyssey through history and visual narratives. It delves into Dante's human odyssey and artistic contributions, with a particular emphasis on his epic masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, and its profound influence on art and culture. Among the museum's treasures is the very box in which the friars concealed Dante's remains and the chest in which they were exhibited in 1865 following their fortuitous rediscovery. These artifacts hold a pivotal place in the compelling narrative of Dante's life and posthumous impact.
Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Basilica of Saint Apollinaris the New)

7) Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Basilica of Saint Apollinaris the New) (must see)

The Basilica of Saint Apollinaris the New in Ravenna, Italy, holds a rich history. Initially constructed as a palace chapel by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great in the early 6th century, it was dedicated to "Christ the Redeemer" in 504 AD.

In 561 AD, under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the church was rededicated as "Sanctus Martinus in Coelo Aureo" ("Saint Martin in Golden Heaven") after suppressing Arianism. It was named in honor of Saint Martin of Tours, a staunch opponent of Arianism.

Legend has it that Pope Gregory the Great ordered the blackening of the church's mosaics because their golden splendor distracted worshippers from their prayers.

The basilica received its present name in 856 AD when relics of Saint Apollinaris were transferred from the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe due to frequent pirate raids from the Adriatic Sea.

A 16th-century marble portico stands at the church's entrance, and a round bell tower from the 9th or 10th century is located on the right side of the portico.

Over the centuries, the apse and atrium underwent renovations, with some original mosaics being destroyed. Nevertheless, mosaics on the lateral walls, twenty-four columns with simplified Corinthian capitals, and an Ambo have been preserved.

The mosaics were modified in the mid-19th century by Felice Kibel, and the apse was reconstructed after sustaining damage during World War I.

The church's walls feature mosaics depicting Jesus' miracles, parables, saints, prophets, and evangelists. The figures in these mosaics are noted for their individual expressions, following a Hellenistic-Roman tradition.

Some art historians suggest that one of the mosaics contains the first depiction of Satan in Western art. In this mosaic, a blue angel appears on Jesus' left, behind three goats, as mentioned in St. Matthew's account of Judgement Day.
Battistero degli Ariani (Arian Baptistery)

8) Battistero degli Ariani (Arian Baptistery)

The Arian Baptistery is an ancient religious structure. It was constructed during the reign of the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, with construction starting in the late 5th century and being completed in the early 6th century. This baptistery served the Arian Christian community and was originally part of the Arian cathedral, which is now known as the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, the Arian Baptistery is part of the "Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna" serial site. Since December 2014, it has been under the management of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, administered by the Emilia-Romagna Museum Centre, which later became the Regional Museums Directorate in December 2019.

The exterior of the baptistery reveals a subsidence of 2.25 meters. It is characterized by its octagonal shape and constructed with bricks. The lower register features apses, while the upper register boasts arched windows. The interior of the baptistery is sparsely adorned, with exposed brickwork and no remaining furnishings. The only remnant of the baptismal font is a circular marble slab located at the center of the building.

The highlight of the Arian Baptistery is its beautifully decorated dome, which is adorned with mosaics. While the mosaic surface is smaller compared to the Neonian Baptistery, the decorative scheme is simpler. The central mosaic features the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, depicting John, the Jordan River, and the Holy Spirit as a dove. The outermost mosaic register showcases the empty throne of the Ethymasia, symbolizing the second coming of Christ. It includes a jeweled cross resting on a purple cushion and a representation of the twelve holy martyrs, often identified with the twelve apostles.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

9) Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (must see)

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a Late Antique Roman structure constructed between 425 and 450 AD. This site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996, along with seven other landmarks in Ravenna.

Despite its name, the mausoleum is not the final resting place of Empress Galla Placidia. The misconception that she was buried here dates back to the thirteenth century. In reality, Galla Placidia passed away in Rome and was interred there, likely beside Emperor Honorius in the Mausoleum of Honorius at Old Saint Peter's Basilica.

The "mausoleum" was originally an adjunct to the Church of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce) in Ravenna, constructed in 417 as the church for the imperial palace and probably dedicated to Saint Lawrence. It has a cruciform layout with a central dome supported by pendentives and barrel vaults over its four transepts. A square tower encases the exterior of the dome, rising above the lateral wings with decorative blind arcades. The brick surface is set with narrow mortar joints, and alabaster window panels allow light to enter.

The interior of the mausoleum is adorned with exquisite mosaics. Two notable mosaic lunettes are located inside, and the remainder of the interior is filled with mosaics featuring Christian and Apocalyptic symbols. The mosaics, crafted from glass tesserae, embellish the vaulted ceilings, lunettes, and cupola, showcasing high-quality work. Above the entrance portal, there is a mosaic portraying Christ as the Good Shepherd among his flock.
Basilica of San Vitale

10) Basilica of San Vitale (must see)

The Basilica of San Vitale is a significant late antique church with a unique architectural design. Built in the 6th century under the orders of Bishop Ecclesius of Ravenna, it showcases a blend of Roman and Byzantine elements.

The central vault of the church was constructed using a novel technique involving hollow tubes inserted into each other, a pioneering use of terra-cotta forms that later influenced modern structural clay tile construction. The church's octagonal layout combines Roman features such as the dome and doorways with Byzantine elements like the polygonal apse, capitals, narrow bricks, and early examples of flying buttresses.

The Basilica of San Vitale is renowned for its exceptional Byzantine mosaics, which are among the most studied works in Byzantine art. These mosaics are considered the best-preserved outside of Istanbul. The church holds the honorific title of basilica in the Roman Catholic Church due to its historical and ecclesial significance.

Legend has it that the church was built on the site where Saint Vitalis was martyred. The Baroque frescoes on the dome, created in the late 18th century, add to the artistic heritage of this remarkable structure. The bell tower, with four bells, includes a tenor bell dating back to the 16th century. The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the eight structures in Ravenna inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Via Cavour (Cavour Street)

11) Via Cavour (Cavour Street)

Beyond the typical clothing stores, gadget shops, and souvenir stalls, Ravenna's shopping scene offers a diverse and authentic experience that resonates with its historical and artistic heritage. As you wander the city, especially along prominent shopping streets like Via Cavour, Via Diaz, Via Cairoli, Via Corrado Ricci, Piazza del Popolo, Via IV Novembre, and Via Matteotti, you'll discover a wealth of unique boutiques, artisan workshops, and authentic shops that cater to a variety of interests.

Here, you can immerse yourself in the world of exquisite local products, from freshly made pasta to typical sausages, regional wines, confectionery, and pastries. It's a celebration of the culinary delights that are deeply rooted in the region's traditions.

Via Cavour, in particular, stands as one of Ravenna's best-known streets and serves as a gateway to the city's historical center. With its slightly curved layout, Via Cavour closely follows the path of the original Roman settlement. This street is not only a hub for glamorous shops and restaurants but also provides access to some of the city's most iconic monuments.

As the primary street in the historic center, Via Cavour offers the perfect starting point for your exploration of Ravenna. As you stroll along this lively thoroughfare, you'll be enticed by shop windows displaying a wide range of products, from fashion items to local delicacies. The delightful aromas and enticing shopfronts will guide you to charming side streets like Via Fanti, Via Argentario, Via Pasolini, and Via Salara.

Ravenna's shopping streets are a lively blend of students, locals, and tourists. You'll encounter not only major brand outlets but also family-owned businesses and craft workshops. The city's unique charm extends to its inner courtyards, such as the enchanting Corte Cavour, hidden behind the bustling streets.

Walking Tours in Ravenna, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Ravenna

Create Your Own Walk in Ravenna

Creating your own self-guided walk in Ravenna is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Byzantine Mosaics Walking Tour

Byzantine Mosaics Walking Tour

What are precious jewels, you may ask. Well, let me tell you – Ravenna’s Byzantine mosaics are surely among the most sparkling, spectacular, and valuable. So much so that they were recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1996.

Indeed, Ravenna is like no other place in Italy, and the magnificence of its mosaics can leave you with a stiff neck. The intricate mosaic work achieved some of...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles