Ravenna – Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Once the Western Capital of the Byzantine Empire

Ravenna is the home of the most celebrated mosaics in Western art. The superb 5th- to 7th-century Byzantine mosaics are dazzling reminders of Ravenna’s storied past as the last capital of the Western Roman Empire after the fall of Rome in the 5th century.

Today it is a sleepy town, nonchalant about the unparalleled artistic treasures that fill its museums and churches. For the art-loving visitor, this means no crowds, no lines, and an enjoyably slow, genuine rhythm in a place where tourism seems almost incidental.

The city’s red-brick buildings are unpretentious, an intense contrast to the brilliance and refinement of the mosaics that cover their inte­riors. Tiny pieces of glass, colored marble, and semiprecious stones have been painstakingly cut to fit drawn designs of epic proportion.

There are six places to see these tapestries of mosaics, ordered by the Byzantine rulers in their attempt to have Ravenna outdo rival cities, but most visited is the 6th-century duo of the Tomb of Gallia Placidia and the adjacent Basilica di San Vitale, believed by many to be the crowning achievement of Byzantine art in the entire world.

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