An itinerary of events across Ravenna’s thousand-year old history

Imagine boarding a time machine: imagine places that are witness to millennial history, places where emperors, saints, poets and artists strolled; imagine places that come back to life with music, drama or dance.

Once upon a time Ravenna was on the sea: emperor Augustus establishes the Port of Classe as the home for his eastern Mediterranean fleet, and it is here that Apollinaris, the first bishop of Ravenna and a martyr, first touches land. Once upon a time – and now! – gilded mosaics kindle the vaults, apses and naves of the Byzantine basilicas of San Vitale, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and Sant’Apollinare in Classe, narrating the stories, dreams, and faith of Galla Placidia, daughter and mother of emperors and an empress herself; Justinian, emperor of Byzantium; Theodora, his wife, who had been a dancer before becoming an Empress; Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, and Apollinaris from Syria, a disciple of Peter the Apostle.

Maybe those very skies of tesserae showed the colours of the Paradise to Dante Alighieri: what is certain is that the poet spent his last years in Ravenna with the Da Polenta, lords of the city; he walked in the pine forest and prayed in the church of San Francesco, where his funeral would later take place. He still rests nearby, in the historic heart of the city, a pilgrimage destination for all the lovers of Italian language, culture, and literature.

Once upon a time there was a monastery, one of the greatest and most majestic buildings of the Camaldolese Order: now housing the Classense Library and its extraordinary collection of ancient books, manuscripts, engravings, maps, and photographs. Another monastery, the Benedictine complex of San Vitale, has hosted the National Museum of Ravenna since the early 20th century. The Museum’s primitive corpus consists of the collections created by those very Camaldolese monks who founded the Library. Among its treasures the 14th-century fresco cycle detached from the ancient church of Santa Chiara (Rasi Theatre today), and now set in the Refectory Hall of San Vitale.

Periods overlap, meet, become stratified; the city overflows with history, and imagination is filled with other poets, other music, other songs. In 1852, for the first time, the lights turn on in one of the most elegant Italian theatres: the 19th-century Alighieri Theatre.