The name THEODORIC’S PALACE commonly refers to the architectonic remains of a building set near the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. It is located in the current Via di Roma, at the intersection with Via Alberoni.
A journey in history
Written sources attest that the Ostrogothic king Theodoric resided in a majestic palace in Ravenna, next to the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. This area had already been chosen as the site of the imperial court by his predecessors, Honorius and Valentinian III.
Today, along the central nave of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare, ordered by King Theodoric himself as a palatine chapel, is a splendid mosaic depiction of the imperial palace. It is a building on two floors, with side porticoes and a gabled central body with an epigraph. Behind, enclosed within the walls, some other buildings with a circular and a basilica plan emerge.
A building or something else?
The remains of the building in Via di Roma are what is left of an imperial palace only by tradition. History, as it happens, is far more intriguing.
According to some scholars, the remains might be of a guardhouse (7th-8th century), presumably built to control the access to the palace. It must have hosted the exarchs, i.e. the governors of the Italian provinces appointed by the Byzantine Emperor. The house must have resembled another building in Constantinople named “Calce” (i.e. Bronze because of its monumental bronze gate). This is why also the building’s name in Ravenna was “Calce” or “Ad Calchi”.
According to others, however, what we see are the remains of a porticoed vestibule (ardica). The vestibule should have been overlooking the then church of San Salvatore ad Calchi. The church, so medieval sources, was apparently near the palace and the basilica; nevertheless, a document of 1503 states that in those years it was already almost completely in ruins.
This area has been the object of study since the second half of the 18th century, after a fortuitous recovery of some fragments of mosaic floor.
The most ancient layer seems to date back between the end of the 1st century b.C. and the beginning of the 1st century a.D. Those fragments might have been of a suburban villa. Beyond the first layer, later stratigraphies dating back to the 4th century a.D. follow. Since they show palatial features, they might be remains of the imperial palace of Honorius. As a matter of fact, Honorius decided to move in 402 the capital of the Western Roman Empire in Ravenna.
The documents describe a villa of considerable dimensions, with rooms gravitating around a great porticoed court. Among the others, overlooking the court was a room with an apsis and opus sectile floors (5th century a.D.), as well as a triclinium room with three apses and a refined mosaic floor. In Theodoric’s age (493-526), the palace underwent renovation and expansion, and some of its rooms were repaved in mosaic.
Some rooms seem to have an even higher mosaic floor, maybe renovated at the end of the 6th century. Archaeological remains seem to indicate that the palace had been working until the end of the eighth century.
What to see
Through a spiral staircase of the round tower on the eastern side of the so-called Theodoric’s Palace, you can visit the first floor.
The archaeological diggings (1908-1914) carried out in the area brought to light portions of mosaic floors. As a consequence, starting from the end of the 19th century, the palace became a display of those mosaic floors. Mosaic pieces are also on the ground floor, in the tiny front loggia.