Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until that empire collapsed in 476. It then served as the capital of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths until it was conquered in 554. Afterwards, the city formed the centre of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna until the invasion of the Franks in 751, after which it became the seat of the Kingdom of the Lombards.
The origins of Ravenna are uncertain. The first settlement is variously attributed to (and then has seen the co presence of) the Thessalians, the Etruscans and the Umbrians, afterwards its territory was settled also by the Senones, especially the southern countryside of the city (that wasn't part of the lagoon), the Ager Decimanus. Ravenna consisted of houses built on piles on a series of small islands in a marshy lagoon – a situation similar to Venice several centuries later. The Romans ignored it during their conquest of the Po River Delta, but later accepted it into the Roman Republic as a federated town in 89 BC. In 49 BC, it was the location where Julius Caesar gathered his forces before crossing the Rubicon. Later, after his battle against Mark Antony in 31 BC, Emperor Augustus founded the military harbour of Classe.This harbour, protected at first by its own walls, was an important station of the Roman Imperial Fleet. Nowadays the city is landlocked, but Ravenna remained an important seaport on the Adriatic until the early Middle Ages. During the German campaigns, Thusnelda, widow of Arminius, and Marbod, King of the Marcomanni, were confined at Ravenna.
The late 400s saw the dissolution of Roman authority in the west, and the last person to hold the title of emperor in the West was deposed in 476 by the general Odoacer. Odoacer ruled as King of Italy for 13 years, but in 489 the Eastern Emperor Zeno sent the Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great to re-take the Italian peninsula. After losing the Battle of Verona, Odoacer retreated to Ravenna, where he withstood a siege of three years by Theodoric, until the taking of Rimini deprived Ravenna of supplies. Theodoric took Ravenna in 493, supposedly slew Odoacer with his own hands, and Ravenna became the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. Theodoric, following his imperial predecessors, also built many splendid buildings in and around Ravenna, including his palace church Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, an Arian cathedral (now Santo Spirito) and Baptistery, and his own Mausoleum just outside the walls.
From 540 to 600, Ravenna's bishops embarked upon a notable building program of churches in Ravenna and in and around the port city of Classe. Surviving monuments include the Basilica of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe, as well as the partially surviving San Michele in Africisco.
Following the conquests of Belisarius for the Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century, Ravenna became the seat of the Byzantine governor of Italy, the Exarch, and was known as the Exarchate of Ravenna. It was at this time that the Ravenna Cosmography was written.
Under Byzantine rule, the archbishop of Ravenna was temporarily granted autocephaly from the Roman Church by the emperor, in 666, but this was soon revoked. Nevertheless, the archbishop of Ravenna held the second place in Italy after the pope, and played an important role in many theological controversies during this period.
King Pepin of France attacked the Lombards under orders of Pope Stephen II. Ravenna then gradually came under the direct authority of the popes, although this was contested by the archbishops at various times. Pope Adrian I authorized Charlemagne to take away anything from Ravenna that he liked, and an unknown quantity of Roman columns, mosaics, statues, and other portable items were taken north to enrich his capital of Aachen.
In 1198 Ravenna led a league of Romagna cities against the Emperor, and the Pope was able to subdue it. After the war of 1218 the Traversari family was able to impose its rule in the city, which lasted until 1240. After a short period under an Imperial vicar, Ravenna was returned to the Papal States in 1248 and again to the Traversari until, in 1275, the Da Polenta established their long-lasting seigniory. One of the most illustrious residents of Ravenna at this time was the exiled poet Dante. The last of the Da Polenta, Ostasio III, was ousted by the Republic of Venice in 1440, and the city was annexed to the Venetian territories.
After the Venetian withdrawal, Ravenna was again ruled by legates of the Pope as part of the Papal States. The city was damaged in a tremendous flood in May 1636. Over the next 300 years, a network of canals diverted nearby rivers and drained nearby swamps, thus reducing the possibility of flooding and creating a large belt of agricultural land around the city.
- The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe is an important monument of Byzantine art. When the UNESCO inscribed eight Ravenna sites on the World Heritage List, it cited this basilica as "an outstanding example of the early Christian basilica in its purity and simplicity of its design and use of space and in the sumptuous nature of its decoration". The imposing brick structure was erected at the beginning of 6th century by order of Bishop Ursicinus, using money from the Greek banker Iulianus Argentarius. It was certainly located next to a Christian cemetery, and quite possibly on top of a pre-existing pagan one, as some of the ancient tombstones were re-used in its construction. Sant'Apollinare in Classe was consecrated on May 9, 549 by Bishop Maximian and dedicated to Saint Apollinaris, first bishop of Ravenna and Classe. The Basilica is thus contemporary with the Basilica of San Vitale of Ravenna. In 856, the relics of Saint Apollinaris were transferred from the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe to the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna.
- The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo was erected by the Ostrogoth King Theodoric as his palace chapel, during the first quarter of the 6th century (as attested in the Liber Pontificalis). This Arian church was originally dedicated in 504 CE to Christ the Redeemer. It was reconsecrated in 561, under the rule of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, under the new name "Sanctus Martinus in Coelo Aureo" ("Saint Martin in Golden Heaven"). Suppressing the Arian cult, the church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, a foe of Arianism. According to legend, Pope Gregory the Great ordered that the mosaics in the church to be blackened, as their golden glory distracted worshippers from the prayers. The basilica was renamed again in 856, when relics of Saint Apollinaris were transferred from the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe because of the threat posed by frequent raids of Adriatic pirates. Its apse and atrium underwent modernization at various times, beginning in the 6th century with the destruction of mosaics whose themes were too overtly Arian or which expressed the king's glory, but the mosaics of the lateral walls, twenty-four columns with simplified Corinthian capitals, and an Ambo are preserved. On some columns parts (arms and hands) of figures once representing praying Goths and Theodoric's court, deleted in Byzantine times, can be seen. Renovations (and alterations) were done to the mosaics in the mid-19th century by Felice Kibel. The present apse is a reconstruction after being damaged during World War I.
- The Mausoleum of Theodoric is an ancient monument just outside Ravenna, Italy. It was built in 520 AD by Theodoric the Great as his future tomb. The current structure of the mausoleum is divided into two decagonal orders, one above the other; both are made of Istria stone. Its roof is a single 300–ton Istrian stone, 10 meters in diameter. A niche leads down to a room that was probably a chapel for funeral liturgies; a stair leads to the upper floor. Located in the centre of the floor is a circular porphyry stone grave, in which Theodoric was buried. His remains were removed during Byzantine rule, when the mausoleum was turned into a Christian oratory. In the late 19th century, silting from a nearby rivulet that had partly submerged the mausoleum was drained and excavated. It was inscribed with seven other "Early Christian Monuments and Mosaics of Ravenna" buildings as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1996. According to the ICOMOS evaluation, "the significance of the mausoleum lies in its Gothic style and decoration, which owe nothing to Roman or Byzantine art, although it makes use of the Roman stone construction technique of opus quadratum, which had been abandoned four centuries before" and in the fact that "it is the only surviving example of a tomb of a king of this period."
- The Teatro Comunale Alighieri is an opera house located at 2 Via Mariani in Ravenna, Italy and designed by the Venetian architects, Tommaso Meduna and his brother, Giambattista who had designed the second La Fenice theatre after the fire of 1836 . The new Teatro Comunale Alighieri was inaugurated on 15 May 1852 with a production of Meyerbeer's Robert le diable, followed by Giovanni Pacini's Medea. It presently offers a program of up to six operas during the season which runs from November to April. For about 125 years following 1723, Ravenna had one main theatre for the presentation of opera, the Teatro Comunitativo located outside the centre of the city. It featured a lavishly decorated, U-shaped baroque auditorium with 97 boxes on four tiers. In the 50 years following 1802, it presented 170 operatic productions, 24 of which were by Rossini, 22 by Donizetti, and 10 by Verdi. However, the 1830s and 1840s revealed its inadequancy, and plans were made to build a new theatre in the heart of the city; the cornerstone of the replacement theatre was laid in 1840.
- The Basilica of San Vitale is a church in Ravenna, Italy and one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in western Europe. The building is styled an "ecclesiastical basilica" in the Roman Catholic Church, though it is not of architectural basilica form. It is one of eight Ravenna structures inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The church was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 527, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths and completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian in 546 during the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna. The architect of the church is unknown. The construction of the church was sponsored by a Greek banker, Julius Argentarius, of whom very little is known, except that he also sponsored the construction of the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe at around the same time. The final cost amounted to 26,000 solidi (gold pieces).