Ravenna is another city that has received absolutely rave reviews and is at the very top of my list of places that I have to see when I travel to Italy in June.
The above photo is taken from the website of Ravennamosaici, a wonderful source of information about the city of Ravenna, its history and -- of course -- its enormous wealth of stunning mosaics. (That, and the other two photos I have borrowed from this site, are taken inside the Basilica of San Vitale.)
San Vitale has been described as among the most important monuments of early Christian art in Italy, and is perhaps best known for its magnificent mosaics, strongly influenced by Byzantine artists. This, I find fascinating. In fact, the Byzantine influence reportedly dominates much of the architecture throughout Ravenna. The basilica, built on a central octagonal plan, was founded by Giulianus Argentarius, commissioned by Bishop Ecclesius and consecrated by the Archbishop Maximian in 548.
Ravenna itself has a fascinating history. It once served as the seat of the Western Roman Empire and later the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the Exarchate of Ravenna. It's a bit unclear who the earliest settlers were, perhaps the Umbrians. Ravenna originally consisted of homes built on piles on a series of small islands in a marshy lagoon , something like Venice's development some centuries later. In 49 BC, Ravenna was the site where Julius Caesar gathered his forces before crossing the Rubicon. The city later become an important military harbour, and remained a seaport on the Adriatic until the early Middle Ages (which helps to explain the Eastern influences in the city.)
Eight early Christian monuments in Ravenna, which were built over 1500 years, have been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Clearly, I'll have a lot to see during my visit there.
I believe that I will make day trips to both Padua and to Ravenna, from either Bologna (where I'll stay for a week) or from Ferrara, where I'll spend 3 days and nights. I'll have to carefully check the Trenitalia schedules to see what times and routes make the most sense.