Ravenna City Art and Festivals

By Ravenna Festival

Every year from May to July, the entire city of RAVENNA becomes a stage for two months: its staggering gilded basilicas, encrusted with ancientmosaics, its elegant historical theatres, its cloisters, gardens, squares and ancient buildings brought back to life. And also the city’s port and industrial heritage sites, its beaches and its pine forest, where Dante was hosted, and further off, the gentlyrolling hills peeping from the distant horizon...These extraordinary places - eight monuments in Ravenna are UNESCO World Heritagesites - and a multidisciplinary vocation are the distinctive features that make the Ravenna Festival unique.

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in ClasseRavenna Festival

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Grandiose and solemn, Sant’Apollinare in Classe represents the greatest example of Paleochristian basilica. In 549 it was consecrated to Saint Apollinare by Massimiano of Pola, the first archbishop of the city and an eminent ambassador of Emperor Giustiniano. According to the legend, the proto-bishop Apollinare, martyrised at the Port of Classe on July 23rd, 74 AD, was buried here. Originally, the façade included a four-sided portico, whose remains were discovered in 1870. On the right side of the building, the 9th-century mighty round bell tower is the most beautiful of its kind in the area: over 37-metre high, it is scattered with two and three-light mullioned windows. Inside the basilica, the three naves are separated by 24 Greek marble columns, while the presbytery and the apsidal conch are covered in splendid mosaics, the last work of Byzantine hands in Ravenna. Here the classical naturalism was replaced by the more conventional Oriental symbolism. Then the interior was far richer, since the ceiling was coffered, the walls covered in marble and the floor in mosaics. But the marble was taken to Rimini in 1450, as per agreement between Sigismondo Malatesta and the monks, where it would be used for the enlargement of the church of San Francesco. The current aspect of the basilica owes to the early 20th century works attended to by Corrado Ricci. In October 1960, Pope Giovanni XXIII elevated it to the rank of minor basilica, in order to strengthen its tie with the Church. Since 1996 it is listed among the World Heritage sites. A place of worship for centuries, the basilica turned into a stage for the first time in 1965 with the celebrations for the 7th centenary of Dante Alighieri’s birth. On May 27th the Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento, conducted by Antonio de Bavier with the choirs Radio Prague and the Children of Prague, performs Bach’s Great Mass in B minor. On September 12th Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass was performed by the Orchestra and Choir of the Comunale of Florence, Robert Zeller was on the podium. Ravenna Festival has embraced this place, a symbol of the city, since July 26th, 1990, when the Maggio Musicale of Florence, under the baton of Carlo Maria Giulini, played Ludwig van Beethoven’s masterpiece, the Symphony no. 9 in D minor. 

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in ClasseRavenna Festival

Chicago Children's Choir

Basilica of San VitaleRavenna Festival

Basilica of San Vitale

Consecrated by Archbishop Maximianus between 547 and 548 AD, the Basilica of San Vitale is proof of Ravenna’s importance during the age of Emperor Justinian. An absolute masterpiece of Early Christian and Byzantine art, in 1996 it was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The prestigious American online magazine, Huffington Post, described San Vitale as “one amongst the 19 most important holy places in the world”. The church has an octagonal plan and is formed by two bodies; the inner one is surmounted by a dome supported by eight marble-covered massive pillars. Its architectural values are essentially tied to the chromatic qualities of its mosaics that cover the walls, the presbytery, and the apse, filled with biblical, symbolic, and historic references. The political values of the building are tied to these mosaics as well, with the emperor and empress depicted at the foot of Christ. There are also religious ties in the constant reaffirmation of the truth in Orthodox worship, sanctioning the defeat of Arianism in the city with the end of Theodoric’s government. Still, these are known wonders in every latitude. But also the Basilica’s floors hold many, lesser known, surprises. There’s the simple 8-pointed North Star, repeated multiple times and not only on the floor. Then there’s the so-called “labirinto dell’anima” (labyrinth of the soul). It is embedded in the floor of the presbytery, right in front of the altar; composed of seven spirals, it was once considered a symbol of sin, while passing through the labyrinth represented the way to purification and finding the way out was an act of re-birth. Hence, this is a place of a thousand splendours, where, ever since the eighteenth century, oratorios, sonatas, symphonies and motets resounded and still resound. Then in 1961 the Basilica became the permanent location of the International Organ Music Festival, the first and oldest festival of this kind in Italy. San Vitale has served Ravenna Festival, from the start, as a fundamental reference point within a journey tied to spirituality.

Basilica of San Vitale Basilica of San VitaleRavenna Festival

Basilica of San Vitale, From the collection of: Ravenna Festival
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Vespers in San Vitale:
Enrico Melozzi, Giovanni Sollima

Basilica of San Vitale, From the collection of: Ravenna Festival
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Vespers in San Vitale:
Monika Leskovar, Hannah Eichberg

Theatre Alighieri Theatre AlighieriRavenna Festival

Dante Alighieri Theatre

Early nineteenth century: after more than one hundred years of life the Communicative Theatre, made entirely out of wood, was collapsing and the Public Administration decided to build a new facility. The first step was to identify an adequate area: Piazzetta Degli Svizzeri, a squalid square surrounded by slums but placed at the very heart of the city, was the chosen place. In 1838, the project was entrusted to two architects from Veneto, the brothers Tomaso and Giovan Batista Maduna. The former had ministered to the restauration of La Fenice, the most famous theatre in Venice, which had been partially destroyed by a fire. Tomaso Meduna also signed the project of the first railway bridge connecting Venice to the mainland. Under the lead of the two architects, the building which resulted was a neoclassical structure very similar to the Venetian theatre. The apostolic delegate Monsignor Stefano Rossi suggested to dedicate the theatre to Dante Alighieri. The official opening ceremony took place on May 15th 1852 with “Roberto il diavolo” by Giacomo Meyerbeer and the ballets “La Zingara” and “La finta sonnambula” with the étoile Augusta Maywood. Across almost two centuries of life orchestra pit, stage, and parterre have hosted personalities from all around the world, which makes it impossible to list them all here. However, two curiosities can be mentioned: Benedetto Croce and his partner, Angelina Zampanelli, attended a recital by Ermete Zacconi in 1899. Few years later, on May 27th 1902, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Eleonora Duse came to see “Tristano e Isotta”. On that night all the box office revenues were donated to the Civil Hospital and the Vate offered 100 lire, while a seat in parterre costed 4 lire. In 1959, the Theatre was closed for restoring. It opened again eight years later, when it began the quality journey that has brought it to the present international notoriety. On February 10th 2004, the “Ridotto” was dedicated to Arcangelo Corelli on the 350th anniversary of his birth in Fusignano.

Theatre Alighieri, From the collection of: Ravenna Festival
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Theatre AlighieriRavenna Festival

Theatre AlighieriRavenna Festival

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare NuovoRavenna Festival

Basilica of S. Apollinare Nuovo

Without question, one of Ravenna’s finest buildings from the reign of King Theodoric was the Palatine Church, of Aryan cult, built at the king’s bidding in 505 AD next to his palace and dedicated to “Christ the Redeemer”. In 540 AD, after the city had fallen into the hands of the Byzantines, Archbishop Agnellus dedicated it to St. Martin of Tours – known as “the Hammer of Heretics” because he fought against the Arians. Later, between the ninth and tenth centuries, it was dedicated to St Apollinaris, with the addition of “Nuovo” (new) in order to differentiate it from the older Sant’Apollinare in Veclo, which stood in the present Via Pietro Alighieri. Next to the church stands a beautiful cylindrical bell tower, one of the many which were built in Ravenna, like the one at San Vitale. The scholar Wanda Frattini Gaddoni wrote that “they are considered the oldest cylindrical bell towers in the West”. The beautiful mosaics that adorn the walls of the central nave date back to two periods: the upper row is from to the time of Theodoric and was influenced by Greek and Roman tastes. During the sixth century, at the time of Emperor Justinian, the mosaics along the lower row were extensively “cleansed” when the church was consecrated to Catholicism: Theodoric images were replaced by scenes of saints and holy martyrs. The façade and the portico are sixteenth-century renovations from when the building passed into the hands of the Franciscan Friars. Between 1600 and 1700, the basilica and friary hosted oratorios and “religious plays”. Then nothing, until 1921 when Sant’Apollinare Nuovo hosted two musical events dedicated to Dante Alighieri, on the 600th anniversary of the poet’s death. On 13 and 14 September, the vocal-symphonic poem “Dantis Poetae Transitus” was staged. This was composed and directed by Licino Refice, one of the greatest reformers of sacred music within the movement sparked by Pope Pius X. Three days later, some of Dante’s canticles were performed, accompanied by Gregorian music and music by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, adapted by Giovanni Tebaldini who also conducted the music and choir. In 1996, the church was listed by UNESCO as one of Italy’s World Heritage Sites.

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, From the collection of: Ravenna Festival
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Palazzo Mauro de André Palazzo Mauro de AndréRavenna Festival

Palazzo Mauro De André

The Arts and Performing Arts Building is a rarest example of contemporary architecture in Ravenna and it has proven to be one of the most functional indoor facilities nationwide. A source of pride, in short, for the city. The project bears the signature of a particularly refined architect, Carlo Maria Sadich, designer, among other things, of the ephemeral structures of the Estate Romana (Roman Summer) at the Circus Maximus in 1984. Desired by the Ferruzzi Group and named after an associate who died prematurely, Mauro De André, the brother of the singer-songwriter Fabrizio, the Pala was inaugurated in October 1990 and since then hosts major sporting, business, and artistic events. Starting with, the same year it was inaugurated, the concert led by Valerj Gergiev, with the participation of Mstislav Rostropovič and Uto Ughi. The entire complex has three excellent architectural features. First, a huge, 33-metre high, white square dome, composed of a reticular metal structure covered by a translucent membrane made of fibreglass. A real gem was added to the structure: Alberto Burri's "Grande Ferro R" sculpture, which brings to mind the hull of a capsized ship. Finally, there's the "Danteum", a hypostyle hall which serves as an access to the Pala and consists of pillars and columns; the external pillars are made of exposed stone with columns in the middle: nine are iron and red (Hell), nine are made of Carrara marble (Purgatory) and nine are made of crystal (Heaven). The mosaic made by Elisa Montessori and Luciana Nocturnes are also absolutely beautiful. The interior has 3,800 seats, but the area can be changed by moving the movable tiers which, sliding on rails, can be placed open-style on the back. Every year the Pala hosts some of the most important events of the Festival. The inauguration of such a special relationship was held in 1992 with the Special Concert for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, with Riccardo Muti leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Palazzo Mauro de André, From the collection of: Ravenna Festival
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Cloister of the Classense LibraryRavenna Festival

Cloister of Biblioteca Classense

Here is one of the largest and most majestic monuments of the Camaldolese Order: a complex whose construction works continued for no less than three hundred years, starting in 1515, when the monks left Classe after the destructions of the Franco-Spanish War of 1512 (with the tremendous “battle of Ravenna”). The Classense Library, filled with an extraordinarily rich collection (eight hundred thousand books, 750 manuscript volumes, precious codexes and maps), is also a truly architectural and artistic gem. The Aula Magna stands out above everything else, adorned with statues, stuccos, and finely carved wooden bookcases; decorated with frescoes and paintings by Francesco Mancini, commissioned by Abbot Pietro Canneti between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Then the large refectory, the old sacristy (Sala Muratori), and the monumental cloisters. The first cloister, perhaps a bit dark, has a Baroque façade by Giuseppe Antonio Soratini and 24 columns. The second, elegant and impressive, was designed by Tuscan architect Giulio Morelli, and built between 1611 and 1620. It has 32 Istrian stone pillars. In the middle there’s a cistern designed in the early eighteenth century by Domenico Barbiani and surrounded by large trees. Quintessentially, the library is a place for reading and studying, hence of utmost silence. However, there were exceptions as early as the late seventeenth century; a booklet printed in Ravenna, precisely in 1677, mentioned of at least two “concerts” held in the library, the first entitled “Gli amori di Antioco e di Stratonica (The Loves of Antiochus and Stratonica); the second “La virtù trionfante” (The Triumphant Virtue) by D. Andrea Rossini of Venice. The Cloisters “debuted” at the Festival in 2004, hosting the melologue “Francesca da Rimini”, text by Nevio Spadoni and music by Luigi Ceccarelli. They have become a regular and much appreciated venue for many chamber music events and small but prized ensembles.

Cloister of the Classense LibraryRavenna Festival

Lyskamm Quartet

Cloister of the Classense LibraryRavenna Festival

Credits: Story

Comune di Ravenna
Opera di Religione della Diocesi di Ravenna
Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle arti e Paesaggio - Ravenna
Istituzione Biblioteca Classense
Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ravenna

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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