Countries Italy Ravenna Cultural Tours

Ravenna: All that Glitters is Byzantine Gold

Visit all 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this tour
Clare Ford-Wille
Clare is an independent art historian. She has led study tours to Europe and lectured on European art, architecture and sculpture for more than thirty years, primarily for the University of London, the National Gallery, the V&A and NADFAS. She has also contributed to several academic guides.
What's included...
  • Return flights on British Airways (economy) to Bologna
  • 3 nights in the 4-star Hotel Palazzo Bezzi
  • 3 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 3 dinners (lunch and dinner with wine, water and coffee included)
  • Entry to all 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ravenna
  • All church, museum & gallery entry tickets
  • The services of your lecturer and tour manager
  • A tour-guide headset system to make hearing the lecturer easier
  • Transport by luxury coach, as the itinerary requires
  • All tips and taxes
Palazzo Bezzi
Getting about
Participants should be reasonably fit. There is a significant amount of
walking, standing and use of stairs.
Inspirational tours frequently booked together
The building was formerly the oratory of the Church of the Holy Cross and now contains three sarcophagi. The largest sarcophagus was thought to contain the remains of Galla Placidia (died 450), daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I. Her embalmed body was reportedly deposited there in a sitting position, clothed with the imperial mantle. In 1577, however, the contents of the sarcophagus were accidentally burned. The sarcophagus to the right is attributed to Galla's son, Emperor Valentinian III, or to her brother, Emperor Honorius. The one on the left is attributed to her husband, Emperor Constantius III.

Mosaics cover the walls of the vault, the lunettes and the cupola. The iconographic themes developed in the decorations represent the victory of eternal life over death. The mausoleum is laid out in a cruciform floor plan, with a central dome on pendentives and barrel vaults over the four transepts. The exterior of the dome is enclosed in a square tower that rises above the gabled lateral wings. The brick surface is set with narrow mortar joints and decorated with blind arcades.

The interior of the mausoleum is covered with rich Byzantine mosaics, and light enters through alabaster window panels. The inside contains two famous mosaic lunettes, and the rest of the interior is filled with mosaics of Christian and Apocalyptic symbols. The central bay's upper walls are decorated with four pairs of apostles, including St. Peter and St. Paul, acclaiming a giant gold cross in the center of the dome against a blue sky of stars. Symbols of the four evangelists float among the clouds. The other four apostles appear in the barrel vaults of the transepts.
The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine church art and architecture that stands in Europe. The church was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 526, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths and completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 547 preceding the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna.

The central section is surrounded by two superposed ambulatories. The upper one, the matrimoneum, was possibly reserved for married women. A series of mosaics in the lunettes above the triforia depict sacrifices from the Old Testament: the story of Abraham and Melchizedek, and the Sacrifice of Isaac; the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, Jeremiah and Isaiah, representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the story of Abel and Cain. A pair of angels, holding a medallion with a cross, crowns each lunette. On the side walls the corners, next to the mullioned windows, have mosaics of the Four Evangelists, under their symbols (angel, lion, ox and eagle), and dressed in white. Especially the portrayal of the lion is remarkable in its ferocity.

The cross-ribbed vault in the presbytery is richly ornamented with mosaic festoons of leaves, fruit and flowers, converging on a crown encircling the Lamb of God. The crown is supported by four angels, and every surface is covered with a profusion of flowers, stars, birds and animals, including many peacocks. Above the arch, on both sides, two angels hold a disc and beside them a representation of the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They symbolize the human race (Jerusalem representing the Jews, and Bethlehem the Gentiles).

All these mosaics are executed in the Hellenistic-Roman tradition: lively and imaginative, with rich colors and a certain perspective, and with a vivid depiction of the landscape, plants and birds. They were finished when Ravenna was still under Gothic rule. The apse is flanked by two chapels, the prothesis and the diaconicon, typical for Byzantine architecture.
The Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, Italy is a Christian baptismal building that was erected by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great between the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century A.D., at the same time as the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo.

The Baptistry is octagonal in shape with some little apses and arched openings near the top. Along the external perimeter there was once a walkway that stopped at the eastern apse. Clearly, the building was once part of a larger complex. Inside are four niches and a dome with mosaics, depicting the baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist. Jesus is shown as a beardless, half-submerged in the Jordan. John the Baptist is wearing a leopard skin. On the left stands a white-haired, old man in a green cloak, holding a leather bag. He is the personification of the river Jordan. Above, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove sprays lustral water from its beak.

Below, a procession of the Apostles, led in separate directions by Saint Peter and Saint Paul circle the dome, meeting at a throne with a jeweled crucifix resting on a purple cushion.
It took the artists several years to complete these mosaics, as can be clearly seen from the different colors of the stones used to depict the grass at the feet of the apostles. The designs are quite simple, but the excessive use of a gold background should be noted, as it was typically used in this era to infuse these simple scenes with an ethereal glow.
The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe is an important monument of Byzantine art near Ravenna, Italy. 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".

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 exterior has a large façade with two simple uprights and one mullioned window with three openings. The narthex and building to the right of the entry are later additions, as is the fine 9th century round bell tower with mullioned windows.

The nave contains 24 columns of Greek marble. The carved capitals of the columns depict acanthus leaves, but unlike most such carvings the leaves appear twisted as if being buffeted by the wind. The faded frescos depict some of the archbishops of Ravenna, and date to the 18th century. The lateral walls are bare, but were certainly once covered with gorgeous mosaics. These were likely demolished by the Venetians in 1449, although they left the mosaic decoration in the apse and on the triumphal arch, the church's most striking features.

The upper section of the triumphal arch depicts, inside a medallion, Christ. At the sides, within a sea of clouds, are the winged symbols of the four Evangelists: the Eagle (John), the Winged Man (Matthew), the Lion (Mark), the Calf (Luke). The lower section has, at its two edges, the walls showing precious gems from which twelve lambs (symbols of the Twelve Apostles) exit. The sides of the arch show two palms which, in the Bible's symbolism, represent justice; under them are the archangels Michael and Gabriel, with the bust of St. Matthew and another unidentified saint.
Ravenna was the last capital of the Western Roman Empire and remains a treasury of some of the world’s most dazzling mosaics and Byzantine architecture – memories of the final glowing embers of imperial glory. Ravenna is home to some of the greatest buildings of late antiquity with among the finest surviving Byzantine mosaics. The Italian city sits just east of Bologna and attracts visitors with its innumerable early Christian mosaics, on display throughout the religious buildings and museums in its historic centre.

Most of Ravenna’s attractions can be found with a stroll through the city centre, where you can visit the Neonian Baptistry and the splendid 6th-century Byzantine church of Sant’Apollinare. Explore the Piazza del Popolo, and see a vast array of mosaics in varying settings in the mosaic museum, TAMO. The itinerary includes a private visit to the church of San Vitale, followed by a chance to see the mosaics at the adjacent Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the glittering jewel that is San Appollonaire at Classe, Ravenna’s port on the Adriatic. The city is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage sites. All of them are visited on this tour.
After arriving in Bologna late morning, we drive to Ravenna to check-in to the marvellous, Palazzo Bezzi hotel for three nights. After lunch together, we visit the 5th century Mausoleum of Galla Placida which contains stunning mosaics. The Basilica of San Vitale which is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe. Work on the church started in 527AD and was completed around twenty years later. It is most famous for its wealth of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside of Constantinople. We dine together in a fine local restaurant.
After breakfast, we set out to Sant’Appolinare Nuovo, first constructed by the Ostrogoth King, Theodoric the Great. The glorioius mosaics were supposedly blackened under orders from Pope Gregory the Great to prevent them from distracting worshippers from their prayers. We next enter the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista, before lunch when we dine together. The original 5thC church was renovated in the Gothic style. It suffered further in the mid-18thC when it was stripped of almost all its mosaics. What are left show the first recorded Christian use of the hooked cross. In the afternoon, we visit two baptisteries, first the Arian which was erected by Theodoric the Great. The other, the Neonian, is the most ancient monument in the city and contains a wondrous mosaic scene of Christ being baptised by John the Baptist. The evening is at leisure.
In the morning, we visit the Domus of the Stone Carpets, discovered in the Church of Sant’Eufemia. This is a vast subterranean area which has a beautiful floor of floral and figurative mosaics dating to the 5thC. Afterwards, the Rasponi Crypt floor reveals to us its spontaneous patterns of animals in mosaic and enamel. We spend time in what is the only surviving, intact archiepiscopal chapel of the early Christina period; the Capella Sant’Andrea., which contains a striking mosaic cycle that glorifies Christ from a very obvious non-Arian viewpoint. The day is rounded off with a visit to the National Museum, before dining together on our last evening.
After breakfast, we walk to San Francesco to see the flooded crypt, where glimpses of brilliant mosaics shine through the water. Then to a more modern tomb, that of the acclaimed Dante Alighieri, whose Divine Comedies were the inspiration for so many Renaissance paintings. We then depart Ravenna, stopping at the Mausoleum of Theodoric containing his circular porphyry grave. Arriving in Classe, Ravenna’s port on the Adriatic we visit our last Byzantine masterpiece, Sant’Apollinare in Classe. A contemporary to San Vitale in Ravenna, this church was consecrated by the Bishop of Ravenna and contains truly tremendous mosaics in the apse and on the triumphal arch. We lunch together before driving to Bologna for our evening return to Heathrow.
As the  Palazzo Bezzi hotel is a historic building, all of the rooms and suites are slightly different. Single rooms are doubles for sole occupancy.

Prices: £1,095 for two-sharing. Single supplement is £130.

Flights - The outward flight departs London Heathrow at 8am. The return flight departs Bologna at 6.50pm arriving in London Heathrow at 8.10pm.

If you would like to fly BA Club class, please contact us and we will provide a price for the upgrade.
Hotel accommodation can be arranged at Heathrow on request. Please, contact us.

Travel advice - Please refer the Foreign Office's website to make sure you are comfortable with the travel advice they provide for the destination(s) you are visiting. 

Activity level - Our tours involve a lot of walking, climbing stairs and standing still for periods of time. The historic centres of cities are often uneven and cobbled requiring everyone to be confident walking across them.

Clare Ford-Wille
Clare is an independent art historian. She has led study tours to Europe and lectured on European art, architecture and sculpture for more than thirty years, primarily for the University of London, the National Gallery, the V&A and NADFAS. She has also contributed to several academic guides.
Charles Barber
Having graduated with a Bachelors of Law from the University of Edinburgh, Charles Barber embarked on what became a twenty-year career in business at the Reed Travel Group, LexisNexis and The Economist. Charles received his MA in Renaissance Studies from the University of London. He has a Master of Arts in History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art, where he specialised in Early Netherlandish art and its impact on the art of Renaissance Florence. Shortly, Charles will commence doctoral studies at King’s College London researching politics, power and diplomacy at Northern Italian courts in the 15th & 16th centuries. 
Palazzo Bezzi
Palazzo Bezzi, 4-star Superior Hotel in the heart of Ravenna, is only a few steps away from the UNESCO World Heritage sites containing outstanding Byzantine mosaics. The hotel offers guests all the charm of its old tradition, combined with care and refinement of details. Quality materials, from pearly marble used in the Byzantine Ravenna city to precious woods such as dark varnished oak for woodwork, characterize the furnishings expressly designed. Queen size beds alternate with round beds; in suites the living and sleeping areas are divided by wooden screens.

The Panoramic Suites, the huge windows offer a striking view of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Theodoric Palace, Rasi Theatre, Santa Maria in Porto and the City Art Museum. The inner garden is used for events, summer breakfasts and as a meeting point in the evening. 

The hotel also offers a wellness centre with sauna, Turkish bath and massages. In addition, a terrace offers a solarium and a relaxing area with the views of historic buildings.
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