The origins of Ravenna are uncertain. It was probably founded by peoples from Umbria. According to the historian and geographer Strabo (69 BC-19 AD), the town was also inhabited by people from Thessaly , Greece. An Etruscan foundation has not been excluded because of the suffix -enna and the find of a votive statuette – now preserved in Leiden Rjiksmuseum – dating back to the first half of the 6th century BC. representing a warrior, possibly the Etruscan god Laran (Mars) (David, M., 2013, pp. 23-24).
TOWN OF WATERS AND THE ARRIVAL OF ROMANS
Long sand dunes bordered the Adriatic shoreline which has been receding for many kilometres since then. The ancient Ravenna was quite similar to a «ancient little Venice” (Augenti, A., 2009, p.9) made up of islands connected by bridges: rivers would flow into the town until the 15th century. According to the historian and architect Vitruvius (1st century BC), being particularly suited to soggy grounds alnus wood was widely used in buildings. In the 3rd century BC the first town walls were erected – the so-called “square Ravenna”, i.e. a four sided area now traceable in the south-west part of the present townwalls remains. In 89 BC Ravenna obtained the status of Roman municipium.
CAPITAL OF THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE
In 402 Emperor Honorius (384-423) moved to Ravenna the capital of Western Empire. The building of civil and religious edifices assured an economic and cultural development. When both the Emperor and his successor Costanzo III died, his widow Galla Placidia (388/392 — 450) – who was also Honorius’ sister and Teodosius’ daughter – took the power on behalf of Valentinian III, her son. She defended Christianity and she commissioned her own mausoleum, but she was buried in Rome.
RAVENNA IN THE GOTHIC AGE
In 476 Romulus Augustulus was deposed by Odoacer, King of the Heruli, who would be defeated in 493 by Theodoric the Great (454-426). The Sovereign of Ostrogoths ruled Italy from Ravenna. He introduced the Arian cult, promoting a peaceful cohabitation with Catholic Christians. Amator fabricarum et restaurator civitatum (“lover of buildings and restorer of cities”), he restored the imperial Roman aqueduct, built the Palace, the Palatine Chapel (St. Apollinare Nuovo), the Ecclesia matrix (the church of the Holy Spirit) with the Arian Baptistery, and his mighty mausoleum.
RAVENNA IN THE BYZANTINE AGE
In 539 Byzantine Emperor Justinian came back in power. He designated Ravenna capital of the Prefecture of Italy and made the Episcopal seat become an Archdiocese. The return of Catholicism caused the Arian’ s persecution and the building of two basilicas: St. Vitale and St. Apollinare in Classe. After the Longombard invasion in 568, in 584 Emperor Maurice changed the Prefecture into the Exarchate of Italy; it was governed by an exarch with supreme civil and military power in Ravenna.
FROM LONGOBARDS TO FRANKS
In 579, the Longobard Duke Faroald plundered the town of Classe; the legend of Droctulf – celebrated by Jorge Luis Borges in his novel The Aleph – dates probably back to this age. Today we can still see Drodgone or Droctulf wall next to the Arian Baptistery. In 751 the King of Longobards Aistulf put an end to the Byzantine domination in Italy. In 774 Charlemagne conquered the kingdom of Longobards and gave Ravenna to the Pope . His son Louis the Pious transferred the capital to Pavia, while Ravenna retained the prestige of an imperial seat. During the 10th and 11th centuries, it was ruled by Saxon Emperors and six new small ports were built. In 1001 the hermit Romuald founded the S. Adalberto in Pereo Monastery on the right bank of the Po of Primaro river (today called Reno river).
RAVENNA IN THE MIDDLE AGE
In the 12th century Ravenna became a free Municipality and built a high tower, unfortunately today much lower than originally. In 1212 Frederick II took the power forming an alliance with the Traversari Family, whose house is still known as Casa Traversari. In 1275 the Da Polenta Family became lords of the town and were in power until 1441. Also the founding of the churches and convents of San Francesco and San Domenico date back to the end of the 13th century. In 1318 Dante found asylum in Ravenna and here he died, in 1321, while on his way back from Venice where he had been on a diplomatic trip. The poet’s daughter Antonia Alighieri would enter the monastery of Santo Stefano degli Ulivi and take the name of Suor Beatrice. The 5th Hell’s Canto in The Divine Comedy is dedicated to the tragic love story of Paolo Malatesta and Francesca Da Polenta. Today there is still a house called “Francesca’s House” .
RAVENNA IN THE VENETIAN AGE
The Signoria (Lordship) of the Da Polenta family ended in 1441, when Venice conquered the town. The domination of the Republic would last until 1509. Since then (the Pope was Julius II) , the town would be ruled by the Holy See until the Unification of Italy in 1859. During the Venetian era, many building were erected: the Rocca Brancaleone (in 1457) , the Monastery of Porto (in 1501, now Museum of Art), some noble houses (such as Zorzi, Maioli, etc) . The main square (today called piazza del Popolo) was opened and enri-ched with two columns (1483) and the Venetian Palace (1462) —which was refined with Teodorician monogram capitals coming from the Goth church of St.Andrea destroyed to build the Rocca.
THE BATTLE OF RAVENNA AND PORT’AUREA
On 11th April 1512, at the break of the Easter day, the Holy Alliance Army (Venetian, Spanish and Pope Giulio II’ s Armies) on one side, and the French Army, led by the Duke of Nemours, Gaston De Foix, King Louis XII’ s nephew, engaged in battle to obtain the control on Northern Italy. Gaston de Foix-Nemours won the day but was among the 20 thousand men who died on the battlefield. The massacre was due to the massive use of field artillery – never used before in battle – by the Duke of Ferrara Alfonso I d’Este who was a French ally. The famous poet Ludovico Ariosto was with him. The city was devastated and plundered by French soldiers and at least two thousand people were
killed. In 1582 the ancient Porta Aurea, built by Emperor Claudius in 42 AD and pictured also by the architect Andrea Palladio, was destroyed to supply building material for the new Porta Adriana and Porta S errata (formerly Porta Cybo) . The two clypeus of Porta Aurea are now preserved in the National Museum of Ravenna.
THE 17TH CENTURY AND THE 18TH CENTURY
Between the 17th and 18th century, after many floods, the two rivers Ronco and Montone were diverted to a new riverbed, called Fiumi Uniti, United Rivers. In the same period the Corsini Canal was excavated — it was called Candiano, after the previous toponym — and the first docks (Darsena) were built. In the historical center many different buildings were erected: the Town Hall, Palazzo Rasponi Dalle Teste, Palazzo Spreti, Classense Library, the Cathedral and also Dante’s tomb, designed by the famous architect Camillo Morigia.
THE 19TH CENTURY
After the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) Ravenna was given back to the Pope. Among the most important buildings of the period there is the Alighieri Theatre (1852) by Medunas Brothers. In 1859, after a plebiscite, Ravenna was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia that would become the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. New public services were carried through such as the railway (1862-63) and the cemetery (1865-1907) . The first superintendency of cultural heritage in Italy started the recovery of some historic monuments (1897).
BETWEEN THE TWO WORLD WARS
Because of the strategic importance of its port, during World War I Ravenna was heavily bombed with consequent damages for civil buildings and monuments such as the Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo. Under the fascist government, new edifices were achieved (Palazzo della Provincia) and the area around Dante’s Tomb (Zona Dantesca) was arranged. Other damages would be caused during World War II until December 4rd 1944 , the day of the Liberation of the town.