The history of Ravenna goes back to the year 402 A.D., when it was the captial of the Western Roman Empire. In 476 the empire collapsed and the city changed hands several times in the ensuing centuries. The city is perhaps best known for its early Christian and Byzantine mosaics in several of the churches and secular buildings here (of course secular had a different meaning when many of these buildings were built, since there was little separation between Church and state).
It is not quite as well-known a tourist destination of other cities in Italy, which means that the streets are not over-crowded with tourists. The main square of the city is a short walk from the train station, and has two columns in its center: one topped with St. Vitalis and the other with St. Apollonaris.
Ravenna is a popular cruise port for many cruises, not only for the city itself but also because it is the closest port to the city of Bologna, some 50 miles inland.
Among the Catholic places of interest in Ravenna are:
The Arian Baptistery (Battistero degli Ariani): small sixth-century baptistery with mosaic illustrating the baptism of Christ
Basilica of San Vitale: One of the biggest draws of the city due to its wonderful mosaics.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, The ceiling is a blue field of little gold stars, with a cross in the centre and symbols of the Evangelists at each corner. Pictorial mosaics on the walls include a lovely one of the Good Shepherd.
Battistero Neoniano – this baptistery was built at the beginning of the fifth century and was renovated by a bishop called Neone fifty years later (hence the name). The building is octagonal and its interior is highly decorated with marbles, carvings and mosaics. The mosaic in the domed ceiling portrays the story of the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist.
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo – this basilica houses some of the most reproduced of Ravenna’s mosaics. A mosaic frieze shows processions of martyrs and virgins leaving Ravenna – represented by the palace of Theodoric – and the port of Classe to pay tribute to Christ and the Madonna.
Cappella Arcivescovile, also called the Cappella di Sant’Andrea – closed for restoration at the time of writing, this chapel contains sixth-century mosaics.
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo
Traveling to Ravenna:
Ravenna is located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Ravenna is about 50 miles east of Bologna, the nearest major city: there is an airport there and convenient train service from Bologna to Ravenna. Ravenna is only 5 miles from the Adriatic and the city center is connected to it by the Candiano canal. As mentioned, cruises often dock in Ravenna for those wishing to take excursions to Bologna.
You can get train schedules and buy tickets here.