National Museum of Ravenna

Ravenna, Italy | C.1887

Photo Credit: Sofia Nannini

While Ravenna’s origins are uncertain, its place in history is not. From 402-476, it was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire. It then served as the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom until 540, the seat of the Kingdom of the Lombards after 751, and today, the site of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one of which is the  National Museum of Ravenna.

The National Museum is situated in the monumental complex of San Vitale located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. The Museum’s original and most ancient nucleus of collections goes back to the scholarly collecting of the Camaldolese monks of Classe during the 18th century, in particular by Pietro Canneti. Many of these findings are stored on the first floor, surrounded by elegant Benedictine architecture.

With the suppression of religious orders at the time, the numerous objects of artistic, antiquarian, and naturalistic interest of the monastery passed into ownership of the Municipality, which in 1804 founded the Municipal Classense Museum. Between 1884 and 1885, the Museum materials were reorganized by the sculptor Enrico Pazzi and settled in the monastery and the church of San Romualdo.

Just two years later, the Museum belonged to the state, and in 1913 was transferred to the rooms and cloisters of the ancient monastery of San Vitale. Consecrated in the 6th century, the structure is one of the most important surviving examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe.

The Roman Catholic Church has designated the building a “basilica,” the honorific title bestowed on church buildings of exceptional historic and ecclesial importance, although it is not of architectural basilica form. It is one of eight Ravenna structures inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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