The San Vitale Basilica is one of the oldest and most famous churches in Ravenna. It is especially known for its early Christian and Byzantine mosaics. The octagonal floor of the presbytery depicts a maze in front of the altar. Arrows lead from the center of this labyrinth to the center of the basilica.
San Vitale Basilica Ravenna
Address: .The basilica is in Via San Vitale. Telephone: 800 303 999. Opening times: The San Vitale Basilica is open from April 1 to September 30 from 09:00 to 17:00 and during the month of October from 09:00 to 19:00. The rest of the year it is from 09.30 to 17.00. On December 25, the basilica is closed. The ticket office closes 15 minutes before closing time. Ticket price: The entrance fee is 9.50 Euro, but this includes the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo Basilica, the Battistero Neoniano, the Galla Placidia Mausoleum and the Museo and Cappella Arcivescovile. The discounted price is 8.50 Euro. Children under 10, residents and the disabled may enter for free. (Note that prices and times may be subject to change.)
Public transport: The nearest bus stop is Piazza Baracca (line 1), 200 meters from the church. There is also a parking lot in this square.
History and description
The San Vitale Basilica in Ravenna is considered among the best preserved examples of early Christian and Byzantine art. Construction of the church began in 525. Consecration finally took place about twenty years later and was under the direction of Archbishop Massimiliano.
Its completion took place largely thanks to the contributions of a wealthy banker called Giuliano Argentario.
The building is considered the perfect fusion of eastern and western architecture. Its architecture is similar to that of the Little Hagia Sofia Church in Istanbul.
The floor plan of the basilica is octagonal. The dome is somewhat hidden by the also octagonal drum. In those days, this was the tallest dome in the city.
The facades of the building are connected by buttresses.
The deambulatory is also octagonal and has two floors. Inside this is a room, again octagonal.
The atmosphere inside the building is enriched by the light entering the interior from different angles.
What to see
Like the other sacred buildings from the 5th and 6th centuries in Ravenna, the San Vitale Basilica features beautiful mosaics. Highlights include the depictions of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Christ Pantocrator, the sacrifices of Abel and Melchisedek and the Hospitality of Isaac to the Three Angels.
The aforementioned labyrinth on the floor of the rectory was considered a symbol of sin in the early years of Christianity. The way out of the labyrinth was at the same time the route to purification and rebirth.
In 1780, both the dome and the niches were decorated with Baroque frescoes by Barozzi, Gandolfi and Guarana.