In 402 AD, during the latter days of the Western Roman Empire, Ravenna was made its capital, so it is fitting that this lovely city has some of the most important religious sights dating from the early days of Christianity. Now UNESCO-listed with all the other glorious mosaic showstoppers in the city, San Vitale Basilica dates from the mid sixth century; work started on it in 526 at the behest of Ecclesius, Bishop of Ravenna, and it was consecrated in 547. However, the Byzantines conquered Rome in 540 and took over the construction of the octagonal marble basilica. The resulting internal decoration is believed to be the finest example of Byzantine art in the world, executed by unknown master craftsmen over many years and liberally coating the interior with bejeweled mosaics. Detailed Biblical scenes contrast with depictions of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, ornamented with stylized patterns in green, red and gold, while the cupola is adorned with Baroque frescoes added in 1780 by artists from across northern Italy.
Via San Vitale 17, Ravenna. Open daily Nov–Mar 9am–5.30pm; Apr–Oct 9am–7pm. Admission adults €9.50; all concessions €8.50; children under 10 go free. Ticket price includes entry to the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Neonian Baptistery and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
plus the Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel. Take Bus Line 1 to Piazza Baracca.