Between the end of the Roman era and the beginning of the Middle Ages, Ravenna was declared a capital of kingdoms and empires three times. Ravenna preserves many traces of those centuries, which are still clearly visible in the city.
Recent discoveries and new archaeological excavations have brought to light important details that allowed for a better comprehension of the period and the reconstruction of an even richer historical and cultural frame than previously thought.
Nestled among the noble buildings of this very central area of the city is the Church of Sant’Eufemia, a small building with a central plan.
The entrance to the Domus of the Stone Carpets, discovered during the construction of a parking lot, is right inside this church.
If you enter and go towards the rear of the building, you can go down a few steps below the street and take a step back to two thousand years ago.
What stood out among the various layers discovered in the site was the so-called “Byzantine palace”, a complex made up of 14 rooms and 2 courtyards – the core of a noble residence datable to the 6th century, of which it is today possible to admire its stunning mosaic floors.
Thanks to raised walkways, it is possible to walk inside the building, as the original owners of the house would have done, and get surprised by inlaid marbles and polychrome tesserae that create refined decorations and patterns. Among these, the most sumptuous one is the Dance of the Geniuses of the Seasons, located in what supposedly was the great reception hall.
A few hundred metres away from the Domus of the Stone Carpets, located in what was once a Benedictine monastery, is the National Museum of Ravenna.
Partly dedicated to the preservation of interesting historical and cultural objects since the 18th century, today it preserves noteworthy and varied collections, from Roman to Baroque times, from the Renaissance to the late Middle Ages, but most of all a significant collection of objects and works of art related to the eight UNESCO World Heritage monuments of the city.
Right in the heart of Ravenna, just a few steps from the Zone of Silence and from the main UNESCO World Heritage monuments, is a treasure for the eyes and for the soul.
Through the monumental portico in Piazza San Francesco you can easily get to the Roof Gardens of Palazzo della Provincia, an enchanting garden on various floors – the result of a series of expansions and changes that were made throughout the centuries.
On the first level of the garden, beyond the charming fountain, is the entrance to the Rasponi Crypt, the only authentic and certain trace of the ancient Palazzo Rasponi. Never used as a burial place by the noble family, today it often hosts works of contemporary art.
The crypt is surmounted by a neo-gothic tower, under which you can find the stairs leading to the upper floors of the garden.
From here, you can enjoy a fascinating view over the underlying square and on the places of Dante par excellence.
The gardens now host also the work Un alloro per Dante (lit. Laurel leaves for Dante), an installation inaugurated on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the Supreme Poet’s death, which is continuously enriched by leaves added by visitors.
TAMO Museum is a place which is entirely dedicated to the art that made Ravenna famous worldwide. But it is not a museum like the others. Inside it (that is inside the Church of San Nicolò in which it is hosted), it is possible to have an always changing experience.
Among ancient works and reproductions created by contemporary artists, recreations, videos, educational workshops, shows and multimedia, you never stop discovering how the mosaic is still extremely alive, in Ravenna and not just here.
The second day of this journey through the past starts a few kilometres outside of the city. Just behind the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe – recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage monument – a former sugar factory has been hosting Classis Ravenna – Museum of the City and the Territory.
Thanks to the many remains, images, 3D reconstructions and videos, a timeline guides visitors along the various stages of development of the area of Ravenna, from prehistory to the Middle Ages.
The journey is not always linear and includes some digressions about the multi-ethnic dimension of the city as it is today, as well as about the relationship between the city and the sea and between the museum and the building that hosts it.
Classis is one of the most prestigious steps of the historical-cultural project of the Archaeological Park of Classe.
Going back to Ravenna, just before the bridge on the Fiumi Uniti river, is the entrance to the charming archaeological area of the Ancient Port of Classe.
As the capital of the Western Roman Empire was moved from Milan to Ravenna (402-403 AD), Classe became one of the most important ports and commercial hubs of the Roman world, and lived in great splendour for some centuries.
Today it is still possible to see significant remains of this glorious era displayed in an area of 10.000 sqm, which you can visit on your own or with an expert guide.
Some boards allow you to see how the city was at that time and to imagine paved roads, docking areas, warehouses, religious and public buildings in their original context, whose secrets are still partly hidden underground.
When Ravenna was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, the Ostrogothic king Theodoric had a majestic palace, located around this area. This is testified to by many sources, as well as by the mosaics in the central nave of the nearby Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.
So, is this that Palace? Or are these the remains of the gatehouse of the palace, of a church or of a private villa?
The story of Theodoric’s Palace reminds us once again of how history is often more complex than traditions.
Of this fascinating building, the only survivor dating back to the 8th century, it is possible to see one of the facades with a narthex and some foundations of the main body. Moreover, the first floor hosts a selection of floor mosaics – important findings of the excavations carried out in the first half of the 20th century – belonging to various buildings of the surrounding imperial area.