This 72-hour itinerary takes a look at three cities and the historical periods which influenced them, turning them not only into open sky museums but also making them true and live witnesses of an important cultural heritage, handed down throughout the centuries.
This journey through history begins with the traces left behind in Rimini, during the Roman dominion, then moves to the byzantine influence in Ravenna and ends with the granite traces left by the Este family in Ferrara.
There are many centuries to visit, so we’d better get started!
Roman Rimini: the exploration of the ancient Ariminum starts with crossing the Tiberius Bridge, the starting point of Via Emilia and Via Popilia. It was built using Istrian stone and to this day still amazes everyone for the ingenious engineering project that combined primary function with harmony in form.
The second stop of this itinerary is the Museo della Città [Town Museum], in the Collegio dei Gesuiti [Jesuit College]. There is a Roman Lapidary in the garden and inside the museum there is a route that reproduces glimpses of everyday life in the ancient town.
Following, there is the Domus del Chirurgo [the Surgeon’s house] that dates back to the second half of the second century B.C. It is thought to be the house, and annexed professional office, of an important doctor. During the excavations that brought it to light, they found one of the most complete series of surgical tools of the Roman age, which are now showcased in the Museo della Città.
At this point, you must reach the Roman Amphitheatre, built in the second century B.C. during Hadrian’s dominion. The emperor adopted the winning strategy of panem et cicenses (bread and play), loosening social tensions by allowing moments of collective distraction.
This itinerary, on the trails of Ariminum wouldn’t be complete without stopping in two important places: one is the Arch of Augustus, built by the Roman Senate in 27 B.C. to honour Octavian’s role and politics and with the function of a door at the intersection of Via Flaminia, and the other one is Porta Montanara, also called Porta Sant’Andrea, dating back to the first century B.C. The round arch, made of blocks of sandstone, allowed access to the town for those who came from Via Aretina.
Your first day of travel through the origins of the history of Emilia-Romagna can end with a leap forward to the present, so you can enjoy the night life in Rimini and recharge your batteries. Enjoy an aperitif along the seashore while waiting for day number two of your travels.
Byzantine Ravenna: the history of this town is strictly linked to the Byzantine Empire with its heritage that never ceases to amaze us. In fact, there are many monuments built in Ravenna during the Justinian government, and that of his successor’s, aimed at symbolising and praising the image of the Emperor.
The first stop is the Basilica of San Vitale, an octagonal shaped architectural jewel, one of the most important monuments in Italy. The mosaics inside the basilica are truly priceless because the images represented within are not symbolic reproductions, but true portraits of courtiers. Theodora’s face, particularly, is really magnetic and it is said that when face-to-face with her, many visitors were hit by Stendhal’s Syndrome.
The second day of your travels takes you to the neighbouring Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. The most ancient mosaics of Ravenna are found in the mausoleum. The theme represented here is the victory of life over death. More than anything else, the starry sky reproduced on the vault, with the bright reflections of light that filter through the alabaster windows, is what gives it a magical atmosphere. It seems that not even Cole Porter was immune to this. Legend has it that this starry sky of the mausoleum is exactly what inspired his song Night and Day.
Next is the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo that is home to the biggest mosaics in the world, divided into three distinct phases: the phase on the top part depicts Christ’s life, the central one is dedicated to Saints and Prophets while the inferior one portrays the famous Theodore Palace.
The last day in Byzantine Ravenna is a visit to the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe which is approximately 8 kilometres from the town centre. It is definitely the most important and majestic basilica. The mosaics in this basilica portray Jesus’ face in the middle of the cross which is inside a circle with 99 shining stars and surrounded by a paradisiacal landscape full of green, rocks, trees, flowers and colourful birds.
You cannot leave Ravenna without having dinner. One of the suggestions is to try the typical Romagna piadina [simple local flat bread]. The other one is to try the local sea cuisine, such as traditional grilled shrimp and calamari skewers and spaghetti alle poveracce [spaghetti with clams].
Ferrara and the House of Este: now that you’ve reached the third day of the itinerary, it is time to recall the era of splendour that the House of Este brought to the town of Ferrara. Thanks to this family, Ferrara became one of the liveliest cultural centres of the 1400s and the traces can still be seen today. The first stop represents the symbol of the power that the Este family had as well as today’s emblem of the town, the Estense Castle. Its imposing walls lived through political events, bloody exploits, love affairs, literary salons and artistic meetings. A visit inside the castle represents another journey in the daily life of one of the most important and enlightened lordships of Europe.
To continue with the same theme of art and prosperity, the next stop is Palazzo Schifanoia, a name and a programme all in one. In fact, this building was built for Alberto V d’Este as a place of leisure where he could escape boredom but Borso d’Este gave it another touch that made it eternal. He was, in fact, the one who commissioned the Salone dei Mesi, the largest pagan Renaissance fresco cycle in which the good ruling of the duke is celebrated, in a more or less allegorical way, through mythology and astrology.
At this point, you cannot miss Palazzo dei Diamanti [Diamond building], built for Ercole d’Este. At first sight, it is easy to understand where the name comes from. The external façade is covered by 8,500 blocks of white marble, a magnificent composition, meant to create a unique game of lights and perspectives. Inside Palazzo dei Diamanti there are important temporary exhibits organised by the Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery of Ferrara. On the second floor of the building, you can visit the National Art Gallery of Ferrara.
This Estense itinerary would not be complete without a stroll on Corso Ercole I d’Este, claimed by UNESCO as one of the prettiest promenades in the world thanks to urban refurbishment, the so-called Addizione Erculea – requested by none other than Hercules d’Este. The Corso kept the same Renaissance structure with decorated buildings, doors and windows. The most important site is the Quadrivio degli Angeli [Crossroad of the Angels], where Palazzo dei Diamanti, Palazzo Turchi di Bagno and Palazzo Prosperi-Sacrati all meet.
The itinerary has come to an end and in Ferrara there is a special place where you can toast each visited stop: Al Brindisi, the oldest enoteca in the world.