“If you think these are good, make sure you visit Ravenna.”
That advice – from a fellow traveller – came as we marvelled at the stunning mosaic floors in various parts of the Vatican.
And although it hardly seemed possible at the time, he was correct.
We made a point of travelling to Northern Italy to discover that Ravenna is indeed mosaic central.
Ravenna’s mosaic artwork are the very heart of the history and identity of the community, on a low-lying plain near the junction of the Ronco and Montone rivers.
The oldest works, which were installed more than 1,500 years ago, decorate Ravenna’s churches and historic buildings.
And the craft continues today, as illustrated in this excellent article by fellow Australian travel writer, Michael Turtle.
However, it is the mosaic church decorations that bring hordes of tourists to this beautiful city in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.
The Basilica of San Vitale is said to be one of Europe’s most highly-regarded examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture.
Catching the eye
Mosaics in the Basilica are colourful and show much of the local landscape, plants and birds. They were finished when Ravenna was under Gothic rule.
Elsewhere in the city, the Basilica of Sant Apollinare is an early Christian church built at the beginning of the 6th Century
Although many floor mosaics were lost over the years, there are eye-catching decorations on the triumphal arch – the most striking feature of the church.
Ravenna is prominent in history as the capital of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD.
Later, it was the capital of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, until it was re-conquered in 540 by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
A strategic port
Ravenna was strategically important because it possessed one of the few good port sites on the northeastern coast of Italy.
The Roman Emperor Augustus built the port of Classis, about three miles (five kilometres) from the city.
By the 1st century BC Ravenna had become the base for Rome’s naval fleet in the Adriatic Sea.
Today, Ravenna marks the influence of Augustus with a bronze statue near the city’s approaches.
The city is connected to the Adriatic by canal.
It is about 219 miles (352 kilometres) by road from Rome and 90 miles or 145 kilometres from Venice.
We thoroughly recommend a visit.