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Official Tourist Information Site
Municipality of Ravenna

Basilica of San Vitale

Via Argentario, 22 - Ravenna
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If you want to see up close the real essence of mosaic in Ravenna, you cannot miss the BASILICA OF SAN VITALE, one of the most important monuments of paleochristian art in Italy and in the world.

It is located in the heart of Ravenna, a few steps from some of the most suggestive monuments of the old town, such as the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Domus of the Stone Carpets, the National Museum and many others.

The basilica was built to witness the greatness of the Byzantine Empire, especially of the Justinian era. It stands out for the magnificence of its decorations and materials – not to mention the unusual spatial organization that recall the Church of Saints Sergio and Bacco in Constantinople.

At the origins of the Basilica

The basilica was commissioned during the Gothic kingdom, in the years of Bishop Ecclesius (525-526 AD). Thanks to the considerable sum of 26 thousand gold coins allocated by banker Giuliano Argentario, the basilica was ended just 20 years later, during Justinian’s rule.

It was consecrated by Archbishop Maximian in 547 AD to St. Vitale, a martyr of the first centuries of Christianity.

Apparently, this place was chosen for a very precise reason. As a matter of fact, legend has it that in this place was found a sacellum dating back to the 5th century with the remains of Saint Vitale.

Besides tradition, what is certain is that the basilica was built in a very favourable position. Rising just outside the city walls of Roman age, it was surrounded by stately domus. Moreover, it was close to other very prestigious sites, such as the Basilica of Santa Croce and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

Architecture

The basilica is composed of a central plan, and it features structural elements that clearly differentiate it from any other church with a basilica plan.

The building develops in two brick-built prismatic blocks, a higher one and alower one, both with an octagonal plan. Around the tambour of the central dome is a two-storey ambulatory (corridor) with a women’s gallery (matroneo).

Looking eastwards, the polygonal apse is flanked by two rectangular sacristies. On the opposite side, the entrance portico (narthex), oddly set aslant the apse, has two exedras, one on each side, which lead to the two towers and to the upper sectors.

The inner decoration

As soon as you enter the basilica, your gaze is immediately captured by the amazing mosaic decorations in the apse and the vast open spaces, not to mention the imposing central vault, frescoed in the 18th century.

It’s quite impossible to embrace the whole space with one look. As soon as it meets the mosaic decorations and the marble surfaces, the light seeping through the windows creates extraordinary suggestive effects.

The interior, above the precious marbles, is a further source of wonder – you can see a splendid example of mural mosaic that develops vertically, conferring to the basilica an imperial aura and representing the political and religious power of the time.

While the mosaic figures from the episodes of the Old and the New Testament in the presbytery appear plastic and in a worldly setting, the figures in the apse (Emperors Theodoric and Justinian and Archbishop Maximian) stand out hieratically on a golden, almost abstract, background, as to deepen our sense of the transcendent and metaphysical power of the Church as well as the dogmatic and political force of Justinian’s religious conception.

Besides all that, do not miss the representation of a circular labyrinth entirely made of marble in the area of the presbytery, just in front of the altar. Finding one’s way out is meant to be an act of rebirth.

CONTACTS

FOCUS

Sacellum (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, 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, after whom the basilica was named, appears in the exquisite mosaic of 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

Every day: 10am – 5pm

Last admission: 30 minutes before closing time.

COVID-19: INFORMATION FOR VISITORS
Access to the monument is allowed only on presenting the EU Digital COVID Certificate issued after vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 (Super Green Pass) or an equivalent certificate issued by health authorities, compulsory for everyone over the age of 12.

Entrance fee

Ticket: € 10.50
Concession: € 9.50 (*)

The combined ticket includes access 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).
** An additional charge of €2 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.

BOOKINGS
Tickets can be booked online or by contacting the Reservation Centre.

In addition, tickets can also be purchased on the day of visit at the ticket offices located at the following monumental complexes (priority to pre-booked and pre-sales tickets, subject to availability).

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 the 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 people with physical disabilities.

How to get there

The basilica is in the city centre, in a Limited Traffic Zone (ZTL – Zona a Traffico Limitato).

By bus: line 70, stop in Piazza Baracca

By bike: it is easy to reach by bike.

By car: you cannot reach the basilica by car. Nearby parking lots are in Piazza Baracca (paid) and Largo Giustiniano (secure parking). For further information on the parking areas and tourist buses, see HERE.

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

Last edit:11 January 2022

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