We departed Sienna reluctantly, the town really struck us as one of the most beautiful we had seen. Part of the reason we left today is we had a fairly long drive and we thought it would be easier to do today because it is a holiday here in Italy. Our thinking was there would not be any trucks on the road (which was correct), and there would be fewer cars on the road as people would tend to stick around home (which was really incorrect). It turns out this is a holiday for extended families to get together to celebrate, and lots of people are on the road. We ran into our first traffic jam around Florence. This was just a prelude to the mess we ran into around Bologna. A drive I thought would take 2.5 hours ended up taking over 4 hours. We were really regretting not sticking around Sienna.
We picked Ravenna because it is known for having impressive churches with World Heritage Mosaics. It is also known for its’ writers as Dante finished the Inferno here. It was also one of Byron’s favorite cities. We also picked it because it had several campgrounds near the ocean. When we first entered the town we were in a highly industrialized area with factories and lots of shipping containers so the initial impression of Ravenna was not spectacular. When we got down to the beach front where the bulk of the campgrounds were it was extremely quiet. The campground I had programmed into Greta Garmin was closed, I told Ton not to worry as there were two more just up the street, but they were all closed also. We pulled over and began working on a plan B, do we brave the traffic and continue on to Venice, look for another city to spend the night in, or try the last campground in Ravenna which was on the other side of town. We decided to give the last campground a try before moving on. It was about 11km away and we ended up on this weird unused freeway thru industrial sites. We were the only vehicle on the road until we came upon a car that had somehow managed to drive into the center divider and was being tended to by a tow truck and a couple of police.
Happily when we exited the weird freeway we saw some RV’s parked where we were going so it looked like we were in luck. When we pulled up the harried looking owner asked “reservations?” which of course we did not have. She then smiled and said well if you don’t mind improvising on the electricity we can squeeze you in.
After settling in we debated whether to even go into Ravenna as it was 3 o’clock, and Ravenna had not made much of a first impression on us. The owner told us they could take us into town and pick us up for €2 so we decided to go. Ravenna turned out to be beautiful. The center of town is quite clean and easy to walk in. All of the people heading off to see their families were promenading thru town which made the people watching fun.
When we got to the main church the Basilica San Vitala we debated whether to pay the admission fee. It would be a good deal if you were spending a few days in town as it included admission to 5 different sites. But we only had a few hours and would only be able to visit the Basilica. We finally decided to spring for the tickets as we had come this far.
The Basilica was built in the 6th century by the Goths and features Byzantine inspired mosaics that are absolutely stunning. We were mesmerized by the mosaics and spent almost an hour admiring them. They are in incredibly good shape for being 1500 years old, and the artistry of the figures is stunning. The remainder of the church is covered by Baroque era frescoes from the 18th century, and they are beautiful in their own right. The blending of art from the 6th century and the 18th century works much better than you would think.
At the end on the walk back to our pickup I told Ton, that the first half of the day seemed like a mistake. But in the end I’m glad we hung around to see Ravenna as the town and the church were worth the effort.