Eight unique monuments in the world bear witness to the historical period which ran from four hundred to six hundred A.D., in which Ravenna was the first capital of the Western Roman Empire, then of the Kingdom of the Goths in Italy and, finally, a western outpost of the Byzantine Empire.
Their historical and artistic value led Unesco to declare them a World Heritage Site in 1996. Thanks to the patronage of archbishops and ecclesiastics of profound theological learning, the basilicas, mausoleums and chapels contain cycles of mosaics of high Christian symbolism which, in the universal language of images, reveal to the world the contents of the sacred scriptures and the message of the Bible.
The most famous is the one contained inside the Basilica di San Vitale, a perfect blend of western and eastern art which, in the most important mosaic complex of late Christian art in late antiquity, houses the marvellous mosaics celebrating the Emperor’s court with Justinian and Theodora and Archbishop Maximian.
However, the mosaic that most enchants artists and travellers is the starry blue sky under the vault of the Museoleo di Galla Placidia, thanks also to a soft twilight atmosphere that filters through the alabaster windows.
The two baptisteries are not to be missed because they are a reminder of the coexistence of different cultures and cults in the fifth century A.D. Both host mosaics whose theme is the baptism of Christ. However, while in the Battistero Neoniano the apostles see the figure of Christ as a symbol of connection with the divine, the mosaic of the Battistero degli Ariani, commissioned by King Teodoro, who belonged to the Aryan religion, gives precedence to the view of the cross, a symbol of human suffering, and therefore of the earthly nature of Jesus.
Preserved in the Cappella di Sant’Andrea, located on the first floor of the Archbishop’s Palace, are the mosaics that most glorify Catholic orthodoxy, in contrast to the Aryan current, depicting martyrs, apostles and evangelists.
The splendid mosaic cycles that embellish the central nave of the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, on the other hand, tell the story of Ravenna in the days of their construction: the city overlooked the sea with its port of Classe and Teodoro had a magnificent palace there, now gone.
Finally, just a few kilometres from the centre of Ravenna stands the Unesco monument which, given its splendid position and natural surroundings, has a strong impact on approaching travellers: in fact, beyond the majestic façade of the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Classe, there is the magnificent mosaic in the apse which depicts the patron saint of Ravenna, Apollinare, celebrating the importance of the Church of Ravenna.