Some of the finest Byzantine mosaics in the world are found in Ravenna, an appealing small town with a laid-back pace of life in the flatlands near the Adriatic coast.
In 402 AD, the Emperor Honorius moved the capital of the rapidly declining Roman Empire to Ravenna, an easily defensible marshland town near the important port of Classis. Until it fell to the Goths in 476, it was the imperial capital and continued to thrive under first barbarian, then Byzantine rule.
Visitors come here specifically to see the 6th-century churches and their mosaics, constructed by the last Roman and the Byzantine rulers, notable Theodoric and Justinian. San Vitale dates from 525, a Byzantine-style basilica richly decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes and the Emperor and his wife Theodora. Across from here is the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, a tomb whose interior glitters with blue and gold mosaics. Across town is Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, another mosaic-rich 6th century church, while outside Ravenna, near the ruins of ancient Classis, is the superb Byzantine church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, with its spacious, beautifully proportioned interior glittering with mosaics.