San Vitale, Ravenna
500m/550yd northwest of the Piazza del Popolo in Ravenna is the church of San Vitale, an externally unadorned octagonal structure on a centralized plan (diameter 35m/38yd) with an octagonal dome, begun in 526 during the reign of Theodoric and consecrated in 547.
San Vitale Map
Address: Via Fiandrini, I-48100 Ravenna, Italy
Opening hours: 9am-7pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee: FREE
San Vitale Highlight
The interior of the church of San Vitale, which has been freed from later additions with the exception of the Baroque frescoes in the dome, is divided by eight piers into a central space and a surrounding ambulatory. The principal interest lies in its mosaics in Byzantine style. The sixth century mosaics in the choir apse (below, left and right) depict Justinian and his wife Theodora, who are accompanied by their suite (next to the emperor is Archbishop Maximilian); above is Christ on a sphere flanked by St Vitalis (on the left) and St Ecclesius (on the right). The altar is of translucent alabaster.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
Beyond San Vitale is the mausoleum of Galla Placidia (c. 440), in the form of a Latin cross, with a barrel-vaulted roof and a dome over the crossing. The interior is decorated with beautiful mosaics (fifth century) on a dark blue ground - a cross, the symbols of the Evangelists, figures of the Apostles, above the door Christ as the Good Shepherd. To the rear and in the two lateral arms of the cross are marble sarcophagi, said to be those of Galla Placidia, her second husband Constantius III (d. 421) and her son Valentinian III (d. 455).
To the west of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, adjoining San Vitale, is the interesting Museo Nazionale, with inscriptions, sculpture, carved ivories and other valuable objects.
In the busy Via di Roma, on the east side of Ravenna, is the church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, a basilica built by Theodoric after 500 as an Arian cathedral and converted into a Roman Catholic church in 560. The porch and the apse date from the 16th and 18th centuries. The interior of the church contains 24 marble columns from Constantinople. The walls of the nave have interesting sixth century mosaics: on the left-hand wall the Roman port of Classis, with ships; on the right-hand wall the town of Ravenna, with its churches and Theodoric's palace, and saints in Byzantine costumes; above the friezes prophets; and above the windows interesting compositions from the New Testament - on the left the sayings and miracles of Christ (who is shown beardless), on the right scenes from the Passion (with a bearded Christ).A little way south of Sant'Apollinare, at the corner of Via Alberoni, are remains of the so-called Palace of Theodoric (richly articulated facade, with a central projection).
Santa Maria in Porto and Pinacoteca Comunale
South of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna stands the large Renaissance church of Santa Maria in Porto (16th century; facade 1784). The adjoining Logetta Lombardesco and the Renaissance cloister house the Pinacoteca Comunale (Picture Gallery).
San Giovanni Evangelista
Northeast of Sant'Apollinare, in the area around the station, which suffered heavy damage during the Second World War and has been completely redeveloped since then, is the church of San Giovanni Evangelista (fine campanile), founded by Galla Placidia in 424 and rebuilt in its original form after severe war damage.
Baptistery of the Arians
A short distance west of San Giovanni Evangelista in Ravenna (entered from Via Paolo Costa) are the Basilica of the Santo Spirito, built in the reign of Theodoric, and the former Baptistery of the Arians (later Santa Maria in Cosmedin), with sixth century mosaics (Baptism of Christ), heavily restored, in the dome.
Tomb of Theodoric
750m/825yd east of the Porta Serrata (at the north end of the Via di Roma) is the Tomb of Theodoric, built about 520, probably on the order of Theodoric himself. This is a monumental two-story rotunda built in square blocks of Istrian limestone and roofed with a single huge block 11m/12yd in diameter. The tomb is reminiscent of Syrian rather than Roman models. The ornamentation shows clear Germanic influence. The lower floor is a barrel-vaulted chamber in the form of a Greek cross, on the upper floor is an antique porphyry sarcophagus.
Map of Ravenna Attractions