As the former Benedictine monastery of the San Vitale architectural complex, the building was rebuilt in 1400 and was enlarged and restored following earthquakes and bombardments. In 1914, at the behest of the sculptor Enrico Pazzi and the instigation of the first Superintendent of the city, Corrado Ricci, it became the site of the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF RAVENNA.
The Museum collects masterpieces donated or found in the major excavation and restoration sites of the city, and therefore constitutes the natural extension of an itinerary of artistic exploration of Ravenna and its splendour in the Byzantine era.
On the ground floor, around the first cloister, there are exhibits of the lapidary, bas-reliefs, stelae and sarcophagi dating back to between the first and third centuries AD, among which stands out the apotheosis of Augustus and the famous herms which fishermen found in the sea. In the second cloister there are exhibits of several stone finds that cover a period of time ranging from the fifth century AD to the Baroque age, of which the most worthy of note are the Traditio Legis sarcophagus and the so-called “butterfly” column capitals from the Theodorician age.
By means of the monumental staircase designed by the monk Benedetto Fiandrini in 1790, we reach the first floor, where we discover artifacts that, even if some are quite distant from each other in time, are all united in recounting the splendour of the city: from the collection of small Renaissance bronzes and plaques to the eighteenth century furniture from the Moors pharmacy, from the rooms dedicated to the imperial Chiesa di Santa Croce to the selection of research on the Palatium, the Imperial Palace which was also the court of Theodoric, up to the treasures of San Vitale and San Michele di Africisco.
The Avori collections are remarkable, most notably the fifth century panel depicting Apollo and Daphne and the Murano diptych from the sixth century. There are also icons in the Classense collection, among which the Crucifixion by Paolo Veneziano is worthy of note. Finally, the ceramics collection, many of which were either purchased or donated.