If you visit only church in Ravenna, it should be this one!. The Basilica of San Vitale is considered one of the finest and most important examples of a Byzantine structure in the world. It bears some Roman early Christian elements as well, but the magnificence of this church is without a doubt its astounding mosaics. Photos don't do it justice.

Construction began by Bishop Ecclesius before the Byzantine conquest of 540 and was then transformed into eastern style, completed in 548. The lofty dome bears beautiful frescoes from the 1800s, otherwise the decorations are wholly Byzantine, and spectacularly vibrant. Considering their age, they've truly breathtaking! The church is a two-story octagonal plan with arches, polygonal apse and flying buttresses. But whether you note the architecture, what you can't take your eyes from are the mosaics...the church is absolutely covered in them. They display Old Testament prophets, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem; as well as New Testament evangelists and scenes, and Triumphant Christ. There are many more, but we'll leave the joy of discovery for you to experience!

We will let you in a secret, though: there's a hidden gem that most people overlook while they're gazing upward. A mosaic labyrinth is inlaid in the floor called the Labrinto dell'Anima (labyrinth of the soul). It starts in front of the altar of the presbytery in a circle, then arrows point you out and lead you to "the point where your soul finds peace" in the center of the basilica where you're in the perfect position to gaze upon the altar and contemplate the world's most awe-inspiring mosaics.

The basilica is open daily from 9:00 AM til 7:00 PM (entrance fee). It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ravenna's Early Christian Monuments.

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Address in Ravenna:

Via San Vitale.