You know I always try to recommend lesser-known Italian places in my blog.
I always make a point of visiting places that are outside the main tourist routes. I do this because I love discovering new locations and also because I am always on the hunt for places that I think you might find interesting and worth exploring.
Unfortunately, Covid has stopped this activity for a while but I am slowly trying to start again. As you all know very well, traveling has been almost impossible for a big chunk of 2021 but things have changed (for the moment) and I have made some very short trips.
A view of Ravenna’s main square
Back in June, I have gone to Rimini, a city that I always make sure to visit at least once a year. Honestly, when it comes to beach locations Rimini is not exactly the most beautiful place in Italy – it might not even enter the competition – but I have a strong bond with it and it’s a perfect location if you need to wash away all your winter tiredness.
But it’s not Rimini I want to tell you about today. If you are interested in learning more about Rimini, I have written a couple of posts about it: one is a list of tips to make the most of your stay in the city and the other one is a walk around town following the steps of Federico Fellini. It’s not exactly a breathtaking place but has some very interesting aspects – including a beautiful centro storico.
But as I said, it’s not Rimini the focus of my post. Today I want to tell you about Ravenna, a historic city one hour away from Rimini that I really loved. I first visited it when I was in high school – it is a very common destination for school trips – and never returned since, so I wanted to go back to see it with grown-up eyes.
the beautiful mosaics inside Sant’Apollinare Nuovo
And I am very glad I did it because I really loved it! Ravenna is a small town, you can easily walk everywhere, it has a very relaxed provincial atmosphere, yet it is full of restaurants and interesting places to visit. It is a famous Italian tourist destination mainly for two reasons: the tomb of Dante and the byzantine mosaics but there’s definitely more.
This is why I have decided to write this post giving you ten reasons why you should visit Ravenna when you come to Italy next time.
1. As I have written above, Ravenna is a very common destination for school trips. The main reason for that is the incredible abundance of breathtaking Byzantine mosaics that can be found in the city. Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire for a very short time, during its fall, and then it was conquered by the barbarians. Then, in AD 540, the Byzantine emperor Justinian turned Ravenna into the westernmost pillar of the Byzantine Empire.
This is why there are so many churches and buildings with the most beautiful mosaics. Eight of Ravenna’s Christian buildings from the Ostrogoth period, featuring Roman and Byzantine mosaics, are a Unesco Heritage Site. The most important of them are: the Basilica di San Vitale, the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe but all eight of them are definitely worth seeing.
a building in Ravenna
2. The other reason that brings school kids – and tourist, too – to Ravenna is the tomb of Dante. What is called the tomb of Dante is actually a neoclassical monument built over the tomb of the poet in 1781. Dante was buried there 1321, after the funeral held in the nearby Basilica di San Francesco. The tomb is a national monument and is surrounded by the so-called ‘silence zone’, as a sign of respect.
School kids are forced to go there and I swear they are not too impressed by the monument but I am sure that it can be a really interesting site for many lovers of Italian literature. I have to admit that, even though I am not easily moved, the thought that such a key figure in Italian culture was buried there was really striking. For those who want to learn more about Dante’s life, there is also a small museum nearby.
Ravenna at night
3. Dante gives his name to a very cool project for visitors who are not interested in history and museums and want to spend some time in nature, instead. Il cammino di Dante (Dante’s walk) is a path along the country roads of Toscana and Emilia- Romagna, where the poet used to walk during his exile.
The cammino is a 370-long round itinerary that connects Florence and Ravenna. If you walk the cammino, you follow the steps of Dante, discovering the beautiful scenery of the Apennine hills, their castles, and medieval villages. It’s more or less the same scenery that Dante saw with his own eyes centuries ago and that is part of the Divine Comedy.
4. If you love nature but do not want to walk too much, Ravenna is near an incredible natural area: the Delta of the Po River. The Po is the longest river in Italy, flowing across northern Italy from the Alps in Piedmont to the Adriatic sea, where it creates a wide delta. That delta is a natural paradise and its wetlands have been protected by the institution of two regional parks, which are now part of the Unesco World Heritage sites list.
The delta has a rich diversity of environments, including river branches, coastal dune systems, sand formations, sandbars, lagoons, fishing ponds, marshes, fossil dunes, canals, and coastal pine forests, in addition to the vast and mainly brackish wetlands. In the area, there are over 360 species of birds and a huge colony of pink flamingos. Needless to say, the scenery is unique and definitely breathtaking.
the tomb of Dante
5. If you love staying in the city, instead, and want to discover more, there are many interesting places to see apart from the Byzantine mosaics and the tomb of Dante. You can visit the MAR, the Museum of Art, where I have seen an amazing exhibition of the work of Paolo Roversi, one of the most famous Italian fashion photographers. If you haven’t had enough of mosaics, you can check the TAMO, a museum about ancient and contemporary mosaics.
If you are into quirky and unique museums, probably you might like La casa delle marionette, a museum about puppets and puppetry, or maybe the MAS, Museo Attività Subacquee, a museum about diving. But in the city, there are also Franciscan cloisters, a hanging garden, a planetarium, and a botanical garden. You will definitely find something good for your tastes!
6. If you are like me, you probably like discovering new places, learning about their history, visiting museums and monuments but you also love local food. Whenever I go to a new place, I always make sure to do some proper research about traditional food and find the local specialties.
the mosaics inside the Basilica di San Vitale
In Ravenna, there is something that is definitely worth the trip: piadina. Piadina is a very thin flatbread prepared in Romagna (the area that includes the provinces of Rimini, Ravenna, Forlì, and Cesena) since the Middle Ages. The original recipe requires white flour, lard, salt, and water but there are vegan options too. It is normally served stuffed with just about any ingredient but the most traditional one is with squacquerone (a fresh and easily spread cow cheese) and rucola.
7. Piadina alone is definitely worth the trip to Ravenna – and Romagna in general – but there are many more traditional dishes in the area. Food is really something else there, honestly. The whole Emilia- Romagna region is home to some of the most loved Italian specialties, like Aceto Balsamico di Modena, Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, and Tortellini, just to name a few.
Focusing on Ravenna specifically, you can taste some amazing pastas, like cappelletti, strozzapreti,ì maltagliati or passatelli, or crescione, which is a piadina in the shape of a calzone, lots of great fish coming from the Adriatic sea and a dessert, ciambella romagnola. Wine must not be forgotten: Sangiovese is the most popular wine in the area.
8. If you are tired of being in a city and want to spend some time at the beach, it takes less than 20 minutes to get there. The nearest beaches are those of Marina di Ravenna and the lidi: Lido Adriano, Lido di Dante, Lido di Classe e Lido di Savio.
the Basilica di San Vitale seen from the outside
As for most of the seaside locations in Romagna, the sea is not exactly beautiful: waters are shallow and swimming can be challenging. However, there are many other activities you can do there: all seaside locations are aware that the sea is not good so they have many other ways to entertain tourists, with restaurants, bars, resorts, sports and much more.
9. Instead, if you are tired of Ravenna but do not want to spend time at the beach nor in nature, there is something else you can do: visit one (or more) of the cities in the area. In fact, Ravenna is very close to a lot of other lesser-known yet interesting Italian cities: Ferrara, Bologna, Mantova, Parma, just to name the most important ones, are not more than two hours away.
Also, you can spend some time abroad. As a matter of fact, the Republic of San Marino, which is an independent country, is quite close and it’s always worth visiting, with its Medieval town perched on Mount Titano and the beautiful view of the area from the top.
the magnificent ceiling inside the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia
10. Unless you want to climb up Mount Titano and get to San Marino, most of the area around Ravenna is completely flat. This makes it perfect for cycling holidays: with little effort, you can explore the beautiful Delta of the River Po, the seaside locations, the many villages that dot the countryside around Ravenna.
The only downside is that the area can be really hot in the summer and cold and very foggy in winter, so you have to choose carefully the period of your stay. Other than that, the bike is a perfect means of transportation to visit the area slowly and mindfully.
Now, tell me: you think you should absolutely visit Ravenna, don’t you?
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