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Official Tourist Information Site
Municipality of Ravenna

Basilica of San Vitale

Via Argentario, 22 - Ravenna
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Built to mark the triumph over the Ostrogoths and the first golden age of Byzantine art, the Basilica di San Vitale, one of the city’s many masterpieces, contains the architectural and mosaic splendours of the West and East.

The basilica was commissioned in 525 by Bishop Ecclesius, who had just returned from Constantinople, from where much of the stone material used was brought. Thanks to the considerable sum of 26 thousand gold coins allocated by Giuliano Argentario, the basilica was consecrated by Archbishop Maximian in 547.

Legend has it that this place was chosen because of the presence of a fifth century sacellum, where the remains of the soldier and future saint Vitale lay. What is certain, however, is that it was allocated a valuable site (in the vicinity of the basilica of Santa Croce and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, as well as many stately homes).

The basilica stands on two prismatic blocks in brick, one higher and one lower, with an octagonal plan. Around the drum of the central dome there is a two-storey ambulatory (corridor) with a sector reserved for women. Looking east, the polygonal apse is flanked by two rectangular sacristies. On the opposite side, the entrance portico (narthex), curiously set obliquely to the apse, has two exedras at the end to access the two towers and the upper sectors.

When you enter the basilica, which was later frescoed in the Baroque period, your gaze is immediately drawn toward the beautiful mosaic decorations in the apse and the vast open space. So, you do not immediately notice that in the presbytery, on one side of the octagonal floor, there is a representation of a labyrinth. Finding one’s way out of it is already an act of rebirth.

The exquisite interior, over and above the precious marble, is a further source of wonder and ecstasy: in fact, you can gaze at a splendid example of mural mosaic with a vertical development, which gives the basilica an imperial aura and is emblematic of the political and religious power of the time.

In the presbytery, if the figures depicted in the mosaics recounting numerous episodes from the Old and the New Testament on the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of Humanity appear active in a worldly setting, the figures depicted in the apse (the emperors Theodoric and Justinian and the Archbishop Massimian), stand out hieratically on a golden, almost abstract background, as though intended to deepen our sense of the transcendent and metaphysical power of the Church, but also that of the dogmatic and political force of Justinian’s religious conception.

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FOCUS

Il sacello di Vitale (funeral chapel of Vitale), a Christian soldier and martyr

Vitale, a saint celebrated on April 28th, in his worldly life was an officer in Nero’s Roman army and arrived in Ravenna as a personal guard of judge Paulinus. Here, however, he had the misfortune to witness the persecution of Ursicinus, a Christian doctor who had been sentenced to death. The compassion that this encounter aroused in him resulted in Paulinus having him buried alive in a well, as a punishment for his adherence to Christianity.

Around that well, it is said that a sacellum was built to celebrate the sacrifice of his martyrdom. The mosaic floor of the well, found in 1911 and restored in 1982, is now mounted vertically and displayed in the basilica. Among the decorations are the characteristic swastika crosses, a vase between elegant vegetal motifs and two peacocks, symbolizing life and resurrection.

The figure of the martyr, who later gave the basilica its name, appears in the exquisite mosaic in the apse, to the left of the commissioner of the work, Ecclesius, who receives the crown of martyrdom in covered hands as a sign of respect. His wife Valeria and his two sons, Gervasio and Protasio, also died as martyrs.

The remains of the sacellum, now incorporated into the basilica, appear immediately to the right of the original entrance. To indicate the place of the martyrdom, there are three steps descending into a small tub where they meet the basin of water that holds the travellers’ wishful offerings in safekeeping.

Further information

Opening times

Pursuant to the Decree of the Prime Minister of the Italian Republic (3 November 2020), all the Diocesan monuments will be closed to the public until further notice.

Entrance fee

Ticket: €10.50
Concession: €9.50 (*)
The combined ticket includes the entry to Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery (**), Basilica of San Vitale, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (**) and Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel. The ticket is valid for 7 consecutive days from the date of issue and entitles the holder to one entry for each monument

* Valid for Italian and foreign students during the school year; valid for organizations with special agreements (see details)
** There is an additional charge of €2 that applies to access the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and Neonian Baptistery. Mandatory booking for groups. The charge applies also to children over 6 and residents of Ravenna.

Tickets can be booked online or by contacting the Reservations Center

In addition, tickets can also be purchased on the day of visit at the ticket offices located in each monumental complex:
• Archiepiscopal Museum, Piazza Arcivescovado 1
• Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Via di Roma 53
• Basilica of San Vitale, Via Argentario 22

For further information: www.ravennamosaici.it

Free of charge

Children up to 10 years, citizens of Ravenna (with a valid document); disabled people with certified disability over 74% or “Carta Bianca” holders; ecclesiastics; soldiers; tourist guides of Region Emilia-Romagna at work. Journalists must request free admission in advance to the Opera di Religione by writing to info@ravennamosaici.it

For groups: 1 free tour leader every 20 paying visitors. For schools: 1 free teacher every 10 paying students

Accessibility

The Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia offer alternative access solutions for disabled people

How to get there

The Basilica is situated in the controlled traffic zone of the city centre. Line 70, bus stop 200m away (Piazza Baracca), car park (parking spaces with a fee available in Piazza Baracca, guarded car park in Largo Giustiniano), wheelchair accessible. Close to Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and to National Museum

A cura della Redazione Locale
E-mail: turismo@comune.ravenna.it

Last edit:28 May 2021

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