All Roads lead to Ravenna, one of Italy’s best kept secrets. Once the rollout of the COVID vaccine gathers enough momentum we can dream of’ la dolce vita’ again and a return to a destination rich in culture, romance, spectacular scenery, wonderful food and wine.
To the far east of Emilia-Romagna, Ravenna a charming UNESCO world heritage small city, less than an hour from Rimini, is gearing up to commemorate 700 years since the death of Dante, celebrating the life and times of the famous poet, writer and philosopher with concerts, readings and exhibitions and a upcoming Dantedi festival. Dante’s wisdom and warnings are legendary:The Divine Comedy “all hope abandon, ye who enter here” and “a great flame follows a little spark” among them.
He is best remembered too for ‘Dante’s Inferno’, issuing dire warnings that humans subject to temptation and sin leave no escape from the eternal punishments of hell. However, human beings have free will and they can make choices to avoid temptation and sin, ultimately earning the eternal rewards of Heaven, he wrote.
Known as Italy’s ‘city of mosaics’ , thanks to its exquisite and unique collection of Byzantine montages, Ravenna is an art and history lovers’ paradise, boasting eight UNESCO historic buildings. Close to the Adriatic Riviera, the town rose to prominence in Roman times due to its strategic position close to Via Aemilia, the key route linking regions of economic and agricultural wealth. After Rome’s power dwindled Ravenna became the capital of the Western Roman empire and centre of western civilisation, from AD 402 into the 5th and 6th centuries. Dante found Ravenna to be the ideal place to complete the Divine Comedy. As the home of his tombstone the city has preserved the poet’s memory for seven centuries since his death in 1321. Dante’s 2021 anniversary programme starting in Spring will mainly take place in Ravenna, located just one hour away from Emilia Romagna’s capital city of Bologna.
“Vie di Dante” an ancient path stretching from Dante’s tomb in Ravenna to his birthplace in Florence has been recognised as a “slow travel delight” by Lonely Planet’s annual Best in Travel guide, recently awarding it the ‘sustainability’ top prize. Launched in 2017, Roads of Dante is a meditative meander in the footsteps of Italy’s divine poet. The epic 245-mile path links all the places between the regions of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna that Dante visited during his exile in the early 14th century. It begins at Dante’s tomb in Ravenna and finishes at the Dante House Museum in Florence, taking in many of the places that the Poet described in his iconic Divine Comedy.
Dante’s remains have been moved, hidden and fought over down the centuries, including a bitter battle with Florence to have them brought back to their final resting place in Ravenna, involving the intervention of no less than the Pope back in 1519. After exile from Florence for his political beliefs, Dante lived out the rest of his life in Ravenna. Posthumously the Florentines forgave him and demanded that their famous poet’s bones be returned to their city. To protect Dante’s relics from theft Ravenna’s powers that be hid his bones in the Monastery of San Francesco. There they lay forgotten for three centuries until they were rediscovered, eventually taken to a final resting place near the Basilica di San Francesco.
Ravenna’s top draw is Basilica San Vitale , an outstanding example of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture, covered with lavish mosaics: coloured and gold glass chips the size of your fingernail in a sea of intricate images , designed to inspire awe and unfailing faith in medieval times.
Mausoleum Galla Placida , whose fabulous twinkling stars ceiling would inspire Cole Porter’s Night and Day, boasts the town’s oldest mosaics, dating back to AD 425. The 6th century Sant Appolinare Nuovo basilica , featuring monumental mosaic scenes from the New Testament are among the many highlights.
The embarrassment of riches found throughout beautifully preserved historical sites sets Ravenna apart, and though necessary restoration has taken place much of these delicate mind bogglingly intricate early Christian mosaics somehow survived the ruins of history and ravages of time.
Ravenna also features street signs created by local artists, using mosaics whilst visitors can watch mosaic craftspeople at work, buy modern and retro pieces as well as do it yourself mosaic art kits for adults and children. The old and new towns are easily accessible by foot and a free guide to its UNESCO monuments is well mapped. The pedestrian-zoned historic centre of cobblestone streets leading to arcade-lined piazzas, wine bars and great little local cafes, tavernas and more serious temples to gastronomy like Corte Cabiria, on via F. Mordani, contribute to the city’s intimacy.
Italy’s ‘happy hour’ Aperitivo can be enjoyed in Ravenna, around Piazza del Popolo for people watching, or one of the adjoining streets. An Italian institution, delicious finger foods – often complimentary – are served with a glass of wine or prosecco. Sometimes a buffet, costing just a little more than that glass of wine is rolled out to accompany your elegant late afternoon glass of Aperol Spritz. Another good reason for looking forward to our return before long to Bella Italia.
For all things Italian – Visit the official tourism web-site – www.italia.it