Ravenna is a city and comune in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. The city is inland, but is connected to the Adriatic Sea by a canal. Ravenna once served as the seat of the Western Roman Empire and later the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the Exarchate of Ravenna. It is presently the capital of the Province of Ravenna. At 652.89 km² (252.08 sq mi), Ravenna is the second-largest comune in land area in Italy, although it is only a little more than half the size of the largest, Rome.
The origins of Ravenna are uncertain. The first settlement is variously attributed to the Tyrrhenians, the Thessalians or the Umbrians. Ravenna consisted of houses built on piles on a series of small islands in a marshy lagoon - a situation similar to Venice several centuries later. The Romans ignored it during their conquest of the Po River Delta, but later accepted it into the Roman Republic as a federated town in 89 BC. In 49 BC, it was the location where Julius Caesar gathered his forces before crossing the Rubicon. Later, after his battle against Mark Antony in 31 BC, Emperor Augustus founded the military harbor of Classe. This harbor, protected at first by its own walls, was an important station of the Roman Imperial Fleet. Nowadays the city is landlocked, but Ravenna remained an important seaport on the Adriatic until the early Middle Ages. During the German campaigns, Thusnelda, widow of Arminius, and Marbod, King of the Marcomanni, were confined at Ravenna.
Ravenna greatly prospered under Roman rule. Emperor Trajan built a 70 km long aqueduct at the beginning of the 2nd century. In 402, Emperor Honorius transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna. The transfer was made primarily for defensive purposes: Ravenna was surrounded by swamps and marshes and had ease of access to Imperial forces of the Eastern Roman Empire. However, in 409, King Alaric I of the Visigoths simply bypassed Ravenna, and went on to sack Rome and to take Galla Placidia, daughter of Emperor Theodosius I, hostage. After many vicissitudes, Galla Placidia returned to Ravenna with her son, Emperor Valentinian III and the support of her nephew Theodosius II. Ravenna enjoyed a period of peace, during which time the Christian religion was favoured by the imperial court, and the city gained its most famous monuments, both secular (demolished) and Christian (largely preserved).
In 476, the Western Roman Empire fell. Eastern Emperor Zeno sent Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great to re-take the Italian peninsula. After the Battle of Verona, Odoacer retreated to Ravenna, where he withstood a siege of three years by Theodoric, until the taking of Rimini deprived Ravenna of supplies. After Theodoric slew Odoacer, Ravenna was the capital of the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy.
After 493, Theodoric employed Roman architects for secular and religious structures, including the lost palace near Sant'Apollinare Nuovo; the "Palazzo di Teodorico" was an outbuilding. Theodoric and his followers were Arians, but co-existed peacefully with the Latins. Theodoric died in 526 and was succeeded by his daughter Amalasunta, who was killed in 535.
However, Byzantine Emperor Justinian I was fanatically orthodox, and opposed both Ostrogoth rule and the Arian variety of Christianity. In 535 he invaded Italy and in 540 conquered Ravenna. Ravenna became the seat of Byzantine government in Italy (see also Gothic War). The Restauratio Imperii in Ravenna also benefited to the nearby harbour of Classe (Classis), which is sometimes called the Pompeii of Late Antiquity. The most representative remnant of that period is the church St. Apollinaris (VI-VII century AD), whose relics were laid in the church. But even if Classe was founded during the Roman period, it has grown mainly during the Late Empire. As Ravenna's port, it was one of the key exchange platforms in the VI-VII th century AD, and the main harbour of the Italian Adriatic seashore.
The Lombards, under King Liutprand, occupied Ravenna in 712, but were forced to return it to the Byzantines. However, in 751 the Lombard king Aistulf succeeded in conquering Ravenna, thus ending Byzantine rule in northern Italy.
King Pepin of France attacked the Lombards under orders of Pope Stephen II. Ravenna then became territory of the Papal States in 784. In return, Pope Adrian I authorized King Charlemagne to take away anything from Ravenna that he liked. Charlemagne made three looting expeditions to Ravenna, removing a vast quantity of Roman columns, mosaics, statues, and other portable items to enrich his capital of Aachen.
Under Papal rule, the archbishop of Ravenna enjoyed autocephaly from the Roman Church - a privilege obtained under Byzantine rule. Due to donations by the Ottonian emperors, the archbishop of Ravenna was the richest in Italy after the Papacy, and was thus successfully able to challenge the temporal authority of the Pope on occasion.
In 1198 Ravenna led a league of Romagna cities against the Emperor, and the Pope was able to subdue it. After the war of 1218 the Traversari family was able to impose its rule in the city, which lasted until 1240. After a short period under an Imperial vicar, Ravenna was returned to the Papal States in 1248 and again to the Traversari until, in 1275, the Da Polenta established their long-lasting seigniory. One of the most illustrious residents of Ravenna at this time was the exiled poet Dante. The last of the Da Polenta, Ostasio III, was ousted by the Republic of Venice in 1440, and the city was annexed to the Venetian territories.
After the Venetian withdrawal, Ravenna was again ruled by legates of the Pope as part of the Papal States. The city was damaged in a tremendous flood in May 1636. Over the next 3 centuries, a network of canals diverted nearby rivers and drained nearby swamps, thus reducing the possibility of flooding and creating a large belt of agricultural land around the city.
Eight early Christian monuments of Ravenna are inscribed on the World Heritage List. These are
Other tourist attractions include:
Ravenna has an important commercial and tourist port.
By road, it can be reached through from the highway hub of Bologna or, from Venice, with State Road 309 "Romea". From Rome the fastest connections is the E45 International Road; the other main connection to southern Italy is the State Street 16 "Adriatica".
During his travels, German poet Hermann Hesse came across Ravenna and was inspired to write two poems of the city. They are entitled Ravenna (1) and Ravenna (2).