RAVENNA UNESCO World Heritage Site
Remains that go back 3000 years have been found in our underground. The ancient writer Strabone, who lived more than 2000 years ago, wrote the following words about Ravenna: «It has been said that Ravenna was founded by the Tessali, who as they could not endure the Tirreni’s arrogance, spontaneously welcomed the Umbri, who are still living in the city, while they went back to their homeland.».
The place was very unwelcoming at the time: the town was built on piles and surrounded entirely by marshland. Ravenna has been reclaimed in the course of many centuries.
The city was inhabited first by Etruscans and then by Romans who gave Ravenna prestige and grace, first with Giulio Cesare and then with the Emperor Ottaviano Augusto who built the Porto di Classe, which later became a trade and military port.
The city, not far from the Classe port took the shape of a “Castrum Romano”” (military camp) and the Emperor Augusto first, followed later on by the Emperors Claudio and Traiano built a grand wall to defend the city whose remains are still visible today.
Ravenna has always suffered from subsidence problems and the Roman remains lay in a perfect state of preservation 6-7 metres below street level. The spreading of Christianity took place under the empire of Augusto when in Bethlehem, Jesus was born. His religion was brought to Rome by Pietro. Apollinare, a young follower of Pietro worked for thirty years between Classe and Ravenna to implant Christianity.
Apollinare was persecuted by pagan priests, stoned to death and buried in Classe on the 23rd July of the year 74 AD. He later became the Patron Saint of Ravenna and the Basilica in Classe dedicated to him attracts many visitors.
Once the Roman Empire declined, also Ravenna suffered a period of decay.
Later on in 402 AD, Onorio left Milan to take sanctuary in Ravenna, which was chosen to become the capital of the Western Roman Empire which lasted only until 476 AD when Odoacre chief of the Eruli, came to Italy, conquered Ravenna and deposed the Emperor Romolo Augustolo.
During the Empire of Onorio, Ravenna was the designated venue of important events like the fortunes of Galla Placidia and the erection of the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista, desired by Galla Placidia herself.
Odoacre reigned in Italy for about 17 years, respected the Catholic religion and distributed the land to farmers, but Teodorico slit his throat and after putting the city of Ravenna under siege for 3 years installed himself in the city and did not want to share his throne with anybody.
Teodorico was recognised King of the Romans and of the Goti by the Eastern Emperor and reigned peacefully for 30 years. In his old age he designated as his successor his 10 year-old grandson Atalarico.
The cohabitation of people of different origins became very tense, so much that with the killing of Amalasunta, mother of Altarico, the Emperor of Bizantium, Giustiniano, decided to come to Italy to conquer Ravenna and annex it to the Byzantine Empire.
In the whole of Italy, cities were ravaged and destroyed, but Giustiniano saved and protected Ravenna, which was embellished with mosaics and monuments. Finally, the Emperor married Teodora who was a ballerina and became Empress.
In 572, Italy was then divided in two: one part was dominated by the Longobards, while the other was under the Byzantines and in 751, the Longobards, thanks to Astolfo, conquered Ravenna. Worried for the power of the Longobards, the Pope asked the help of Pipino, King of the Franks, who defeated the Longobards and gave back the territories to the Pope. Due to the great number and dimensions of the territories, the Pope appointed many Archbishops who became very soon real feudatories who remained in power until 1100.
Ravenna was, already at the time, a well known cultural centre, with a law school famous in the whole of Europe. After 1100 the Archbishops’ power came to an end and the advent of coins fattened merchants, craftsmen and aristocrats, so that soon tremendous wars started. Once Emperors and Bishops were defeated, the first municipalities begun to arise giving life to a period of great political confusion. Two families from Ravenna acquired prestige and power in the city: the Traversari first and the Da Polenta later on.
In this transitional period the supreme poet Dante Alighieri came to the city leaving indelible signs of his passage. Born in Florence in 1265 he grew in a “courtly” milieu among dolce stil novo men of letters, poets and politicians. He left Florence because he was exiled, an event which caused him great sufferance, but was very positive for his literary and poetic production: in that period he wrote the Divine Commedy. During his years of exile he lived at many courts and in Ravenna he was hosted by the Da Polenta in 1318.
He died in 1321 and was buried in the church of the Frati Minori (Minor Friars) in Ravenna and the history of his remains is still nowadays covered by mystery.
Men of letters and Kings have paid tribute to his grave for years and still today, Dante’s Sepulchre is visited by millions of people. In the meanwhile the power of the Republic of Venice had arrived also in Ravenna, as is today reminded by the Rocca Brancaleone, the two columns of Piazza del Popolo and the Palazzetto Veneziano in the same square. Pope Giulio II, to get back the territories he lost in favour of the Venetians entered into an alliance with France and Spain, but the Pope did not realise the French’s deceit, who guided by the general Gastone De Foix, defeated the troops of the Lega Santa. De Foix himself died during the battle because of the wounds and is still remembered with the Colonnina dei Francesi (small French column) in the area of Madonna dell’Albero where the battle took place.
After the first French victory, the Lega Santa conquered the lost territories and gave them back to the Pope. This was not a good period for the city of Ravenna. The port was slowly filling up with soil and the two rivers Ronco and Montone completely flooded Ravenna destroying more than 140 buildings. Still today in Via Salara, at the crossing with Via Cavour, 2.33 metres above street level a plaque reads: “On 28th May 1636, the water reached this height”.
Later on the rivers were drawn back from the city and a port, named after the Pope Corsini who reigned at the time, was built together with a canal that linked the sea to the city.
The Napoleonic era went by without great events.
During the period of the Risorgimento we have to remember the “Passatore”, a boatman who became a bandit. His real name was Stefano Pelloni and his motto was “Robbing the rich to give to the poor”.
The legend-true story of the Passatore, who was respected and admired also by Garibaldi, was born in the territory of Romagna subjugated by the Pope and invaded by Austrian troops.
Also Garibaldi has his place in the history of Ravenna, because after sailing from Cesenatico he was attacked by Austrian ships. Half of his men were captured, he managed to reach the beach, but was not able to escape with his men because he had brought with him his dying wife Anita. To help him the people of Ravenna invented the “Trafila”, that is a long line of people who in turns took the fugitives to a specific place where others could take them further away, and thanks this method they managed to reach Tuscany.
In 1859 Ravenna rebelled against the Pope and the Austrians and was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia and later to the Italian State.
With the advent of Fascism, everything was checked and controlled, some accepted it while others fought and paid with their lives their dissent.
Under the guide of Arrigo Boldrini (Bulow), groups of partisans gave life to what was called the “Resistenza”(Resistance).
After many months of war, on 4th December 1944, Ravenna was liberated by the Americans.
Ravenna Antica (Ancient Ravenna) by Martinetti Cardoni
Scritti di Procopio (Essays by Procopio)
L’Italia dei secoli bui (Italy’s dark centuries) by Indro Montanelli