Ravenna, one of Italy’s oldest and most charming cities.
Ravenna is one of those magical Italian cities that effortlessly manages to transport you back in time. Finding a balcony and posing from it pretending to be Shakespeare’s Juliet should not be a hard thing to do!
After a visit here, it becomes obvious why so many literary giants got inspired by Ravenna, including Oscar Wilde and Herman Hesse, who wrote poems about it, and Lord Byron, who actually lived here between 1819 and 1821, in romantic pursuit of a local aristocratic and very married beauty, Teresa Guiccioli. It’s not much of a surprise that a big chunk of his Don Juan was created at this time. Ravenna is also mentioned in Dante’s Inferno and you can visit Dante’s tomb here, as the poet died in Ravenna in 1321 while on exile from his native Florence.
Ravenna comes alive in the evenings and you can enjoy all that the city has to offer until the wee hours of the morning, however to keep this lifestyle up, the Italians have a siesta, or a prolonged nap, in the afternoons, when most places, including museums, are closed. So plan your day accordingly to avoid any disappointments.
The nicest thing you can do is meander the streets of this welcoming, user-friendly sized city and discover its charms, hidden around every corner, for yourself. I fondly remember my delight in coming across a boutique pastry shop where every item looked like a tiny work of art…almost too gorgeous to eat!
Ravenna was a capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402, which gives you an idea of how old the place is and why it has been named a UNESCO Heritage Site. Amongst the numerous fascinating basilicas and other monuments you’ll get to see here, the one that most impressed me was the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, full of beautiful Byzantine ceiling mosaics in vibrant blues and golds to emulate starry skies. Ravenna produces and exports mosaics until this very day.
Ravenna is located very close to the Adriatic coast, so if you feel like a day at the beach and are willing to withstand the hordes of tourists everywhere, go right ahead – the amazing gelato sold on the waterfront should help to alleviate some of these frustrations.
Another fantastic and underrated city when it comes to tourist itineraries is Bologna, only a short train ride from Ravenna, and very much worth visiting, and perhaps staying overnight if you can. Full of narrow medieval streets, Bologna is home to the Basilica Santo Stefano that makes you feel like an ant, and amazing views if you brave climbing the leaning towers Torre degli Asinelli and the Torre Garisenda, not to be missed.
When planning to travel to Europe, the only conundrum comes down to choosing which fabulous places will make it onto your itinerary.