Last Friday, I decided to take a day trip to Ravenna on a whim (don’t you just love “whim trips”?!). It was one of those days where I woke up with the travel bug – that wanderlust desire to see something new. Fortunately with easy access to trains, “whim trips” are a cinch to do in Italy!
Ravenna is a small town about one hour from Bologna. It’s located in the “Romagna” part of Emilia-Romagna. Fun historical fact! Emilia-Romagna used to be two separate regions. Emilia was part of the Ancient Roman empire containing the Æmila Road which connected the rest of the region to Rome. Romagna refers to the Eastern Roman Empire that ruled the area after western empire fell. Today the Emilians and the Romagnoli still argue over who has the better “half” of Emilia-Romagna, especially when it comes to food!
During 540-751 a.c., Ravenna was the capital of Romagna and functioned as an important outpost in the East. Today, Ravenna contains some of the most important Christian works of art in the world – including 8 sites that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Impressive for such a small little town!
My roommate (known as M.S. on the blog) had been wanting to visit Ravenna for a long time as she wrote her University thesis on Byzantine and mosaic art – a major theme among Ravenna’s most well-known churches and museums. Every free weekend M.S. and I would always talk about going, but usually something else came up and we would end up staying in Bologna. However with this past long weekend, we managed to spend a good afternoon there and were really impressed by its glittery mosaics and small-town atmosphere.
What to See in Ravenna
1. Baptistry of Neon (Battistero Neoniano)
2. Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo (Basilica di Sant’ Apollinario Nuovo)
3. Basilica di San Vitale (Basilica of San Vitale)
4. Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (Mausoleo di Galla Placida)
Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this one, but a quick google image search will you give an idea of just how beautiful this tomb is!
*Tip: You can buy a pass to see all 4 (also including the Archbishop’s Museum and Chapel) for only 11.50 euro. Tickets may be purchased at any of the 5 sites and are valid for 7 days.
5. Dante’s Tomb
Legend has it that Dante was buried in Ravenna after his exile from Florence. You can visit his tomb for free!
What to Eat in Ravenna
While M.S. was in charge of researching the art and planning the “cultural” part of our trip, I was naturally more interested in our culinary education. I quickly discovered that Ravenna is a great place to eat one of the most typical Romagnolan dishes: La Piadina – a flat bread made with flour, water, and strutto (lard) stuffed with meat, cheese, vegetables and sometimes even nutella! The most traditional Piadina (and my favorite) contains only three ingredients: prosciutto, the soft and tangy squacerone cheese, and arugula (“rocket” for you Brits!). The combination of the salty prosciutto, tangy cheese and peppery arugula is seriously satisfying.
Fortunately in Ravenna there are many places where you can find this specialty. We tried Piadina Melarancio (Via IV Novembre, 31), conveniently located in the center where they hand make each piadina on the spot. It was delicious! And also the size of a human.
Another Piadineria is La Piada di Ale (Viale della Lirica 11), it’s a bit outside of the city center (still walkable) however I did notice on our way back to catch the train that they have a small stand just outside the station.
A good and much needed afternoon snack after all the church and museum visiting, is gelato from Papilla Gelateria (via IV Novembre 8). We were particularly intrigued by this gelateria because they had a chocolate faucet with melted chocolate constantly flowing from it at the front of the shop, used to line the bottoms of ice cream cones or drizzle chocolate on top. Talk about gelato-drool.
How to Get to Ravenna
Ravenna is well connected to the rest of Italy by train. There are direct trains from Bologna, Milan, Venice and Verona. Once you arrive at the Ravenna rail station, it’s a quick 5-7 minute walk into the city center.