Check out the first half of the tour of Ravenna before continuing here.
A few blocks away are Ravenna’s oldest mosaics. The octagonal Neonian Bapistery is supposedly a converted Roman bathhouse and contains further superb mosaics including Christ’s baptism ringed by his twelve apostles in the centre of the huge dome. You can get close to some of the mosaics giving a greater insight into the adept work of the artisans. A huge baptismal font big enough to swim in sits to one side.
Across the road is a small museum with further mosaics, a giant intricately carved marble throne and a striking but indecipherable sixth century carved marble Easter calendar.
To get a break from mosaics for a while, the tomb of the famous Italian poet Dante (who wrote Italy’s finest work called The Divine Comedy), exiled from Florence, lies a block east of the baptistery. Despite the stunning mosaics, this is Ravenna’s most popular attraction. Marked as an area for silent reflection, the tomb sits next to an untidy grassy mound where the tomb was hidden during the second World War.
The bustling, neighbouring Piazza Garibaldi is far less serene with some excellent eateries from this food-rich region of Italy. With Parma (famous for its cheese and hams) and Bologna (famous for its tortellini) nearby, there is a mouthwatering range of food. Called a ragú, I settled for a cheap and hearty meat casserole in a rich herby tomato sauce served with crusty bread – superb.
If not yet overdosing on mosaics, Ravenna’s other finest mosaics are two blocks further east. With more a feeling of a traditional rectangular church with stylish columns, the Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, contains two long walls of mosaics. One side shows a procession of martyrs and the other shows a procession of virgins led by the Three Wise Men carrying their gifts (top photo). Again, the lighting gives the entire interior a golden green tinge.
It is worth a final quick glance into the Arian Bapistery that makes for an interesting contrast with the earlier baptistery. Similarly octagonal and with much the same mosaic themes, the main work of Christ’s baptism seems less striking and clear.
Though far less celebrated by Italian tourism, Ravenna makes for a superb one-day visit. Without the constant hum of Vespas and manic drivers, replaced by cycling and strolling locals, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed town has a far more authentic Italian feel to it. The quieter streets, atmospheric piazzas and superb food complement the mesmerising religious mosaics that adorn the 1,500 year old Byzantine churches and basilicas.
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