Ravenna is in Dante’s words in many ways.
The characters and their experiences, the ancient palaces and the luxurious coast, the secular work of arts, inspired the Great Poet in different passages of the Divine Comedy. But nothing left such a vivid trace as the mosaics of the Byzantine monuments.
In this two-day itinerary, we will discover the strong connection between Dante and the mosaics of Ravenna, taking also a tasty break on our way.
The idea of this itinerary was born thanks to the work of many scholars, who, over the decades, brought to light the essential relationship between Dante’s work and this city.
Many important professionals have taken part in this project, from the archaeologist from Ravenna, historian and Senator of the Republic Corrado Ricci, who lived between the 19th and the 20th century, to the historian of medieval arts Laura Pasquini.
The mosaics of Ravenna are the heart of almost every tour.
Tourist guides and books tell us their story, describe the images, analyse their symbols and iconography.
But this time, we want to watch them not with the look of a historian or a scholar of art, but simply with the eyes of a man in the year 1300, as an intellectual, a politician, an exile.
The first stop is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, a little chest of beauty and history, built in the 5th century A.D. right in the heart of the city.
Surely Dante visited it more than once and besides the nightly sky on the vault, sparkled with amazing golden stars, he definitely admired with devotion the bezel with the image of the martyr San Lorenzo, which he mentions in Paradiso - Canto IV, as an example of faith and fortitude.
The Basilica of San Vitale, a few steps away, is our second stop.
It is one of the most important monuments of paleochristian art in Italy and since 1996 it is one of the eight Ravenna monuments acknowledged by Unesco as World Heritage.
You will be amazed by the extraordinary architecture and by the inside, full of colours and volumes.
At the top, on the left side of the apsis, you will see the procession of the Emperor Justinian, which, once again, the poet mentions in Paradiso - Canto VI, which is entirely dedicated to this Byzantine ruler.
"What it accomplished when it issued from Ravenna
and leapt the Rubicon was such a flight
that neither tongue nor pen could follow it."
In the same neighbourhood and almost coeval, on the opposite side of the road, there’s the Domus of the Stone Carpets.
Located inside the church of Sant’Eufemia and discovered by chance during some diggings, it is 3 meters below sea level and counts 14 rooms of a private house, enhanced by mosaics dating back to the Byzantine period.
As promised, it’s time for our culinary stop. If you left early and it’s still late
-morning, we suggest you try piadina, the “bread” of Romagna, dressed with whatever you’d like: cold cuts and cheese, squacquerone and arugula, pork cracking, caramelized figs, or with sardines, the typical bluefish of the Adriatic.
If it’s already lunch time, we suggest you try the traditional cappelletti with cheese fillings, dry or in broth, the passatelli, meat of Romagna or fish of the day, accompanied by a bottle of wine, maybe a Sangiovese or a Trebbiano.
The itinerary of this first day ends paying homage to the Supreme Poet. Respectfully entering the "Zona del Silenzio" ("Area of Silence"), we visit Dante’s Museum, the Quadrarco di Braccioforte and Dante’s Tomb.
On the second day, maybe you’ll wake up wandering how Ravenna used to look at the time of the Empire and of the Exarches, in its greatest moment of glory and expansion.
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo stands in the area that was supposed to be the Imperial citadel. Inside, partly restored after the bombings of the Second World War, what catches your gaze are the long processions of martyrs and virgins, white-robed, going towards the apse.
Seeing this, the procession attended by Dante in the Earthly Paradise (Purgatory- Canto XXIX) immediately comes to mind, where two rows of crowned figures dressed in white walk in pairs to the top.
At the end of the mosaic procession sits the “Virgin Mother, daughter of your son” (Paradise- Canto XXXIII), to whom San Bernardo speaks at the beginning of the last canto of the Comedy.
Dante might have been inspired by the image of the Madonna sul Trono, and by the epigram in Latin, now lost, located in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
The Arian Baptistery and, in the same way, the Neonian Baptistery, are fascinating for their domes, both depicting the circle of Apostles. In the Paradise - Canto X, Dante finds himself in the middle of a circle made of a group of 12 blessed.
"I saw many living lights of blinding brightness
ake of us a center and of themselves a crown,
their voices sweeter than the radiance of their faces"
Let’s leave the city centre and reach Classe, today a little town outside the city that once was a fundamental port of the Adriatic, hosting an imposing military fleet.
To give an idea of how it was, from spring until autumn, you can see the excavations in the archaeological area of the Ancient Port of Classe and the findings in the new Classis Ravenna- Museum of the City and of the Territory.
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe is the final stop of our two-day journey with Dante.
Here, the Supreme Poet found one of his most significant and vivid inspirations. At the end of the central nave, in the majestic apse, is a budding disk embracing a sky full of golden stars and a big cross, in the middle of which is Christ.
In the Paradise - Canto XIV, some bright spirits materialize in front of Dante’s eyes: They move in two light beams that join together, forming a cross, in the middle of which appears the Redeemer.
Let’s finish our visit with the words of the poet, ready for a new trip in the surroundings of Ravenna, where there are still the traces of Dante’s passage, more than seven hundred years ago.
"As the Milky Way, arrayed with greater and lesser lights,
glows white between the universal poles,
making even sages wonder how and why,
these rays, thus constellated, made, deep within Mars,
the venerable sign that the crossing
of its quadrants fixes in a circle.
Here my memory outstrips my skill,
for that cross so flamed forth Christ
that I can find no fit comparison;"