The capital of the Roman Empire was of course Rome - wrong. Or at least sort of wrong. It depended on what time in history one is referring to. Rome lasted very a very long time and it split into two different empires. While the Roman Empire grew out of Rome, in time the city lost its geopolitical significance and lost its status as the capital of the Empire.

The capital of the Empire moved to Constantinople, and after the Empire split in two, the Western Empire capital was in Ravenna in Italy. Ravenna was the capital of the Roman Empire in its last years. It was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 to 476 (when it collapsed) - a period of more than 70 years.

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How Ravenna Became The Capital Of The Roman Empire

After the collapse of the Western Empire, Ravenna was the capital of the (sort of) successor the Ostrogothic Kingdom until 540 (when it was unconquered by the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantine Empire). It was then the center of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna until 751.

  • Western Empire Capital: Of the Roman Empire For Over 70 Years
  • Also Capital: Of The Ostrogothic Kingdom

The city is inland in Italy but is still connected to the Adriatic Sea by the Candiano Canal.

Ravenna is a very ancient city. The oldest archaeological evidence for the city goes back to at least the 5th century BC. It became part of the Roman Republic in 89 BC. For the students of history, it is believed to have been where Julius Caesar gathered his forces in 49 BC just before he made that momentous decision to cross the Rubicon.

Under Roman rule, the city prospered. A massive 70 km (or 44 miles) long aqueduct was built in the city by the famous Emperor Trajan at the start of the 2nd century.

  • Aqueduct: Trajan Built A 70 KM Aqueduct to Ravenna

By the dawn of the 400s, the realities of governing the massive Empire were changing and Emperor Honorius moved the capital of the Western Roman Empire there (the capital was previously Milan). This was partly for defensive purposes as the security of the Empire deteriorated. Ravenna was surrounded by swamps and marshes making it easier to defend.

The Ostrogothic Kingdom was seen at the time as a continuation of the Roman Empire. Its famous ruler, Theodoric, also built many stunning buildings in and around Ravenna - the stunning palace church, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, is one of the most notable.

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Ravenna Is Impressive Today

"An astonishing amount of exquisite mosaics survive, most of them in seven buildings that form, along with the Tomb of Theodoric, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The greatest danger is becoming overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of mosaics, so that by the time you reach the last attractions, you simply cannot absorb any more."

Planetware.com

Today Ravenna is like no other place in Italy. It is a city of unappreciated history with the mosaics to prove it. The mosaics alone are enough to leave one breathless.

  • Famous For: Mosaics

It is a good idea to plan to spend at least two days in this historic city to see and take in everything that it has to offer.

All this means that it is one of the most overlooked historical cities in Italy that everyone should visit. It is today known for its well-preserved late Roman and Byzantine architecture and has eight-building making up a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • UNESCO: Eight Buildings Making Up "Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna"

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Must-See Attractions In Ravanna

There is a more complete list of impressive sites on Planetware, but a few of the most impressive sites to explore in Ravanna are:

Neonian Baptistery:

An early fifth-century brick baptistery in the center of the city. It is one of the oldest buildings in modern Ravenna and one of the finest and most complete early Christian baptisteries today.

San Vitale:

The San Vitale is an octagonal church that is much more impressive on the inside than the outside. It was built in the first half of the 6th century and is particularly impressive with mosaics. There are even mosaics that portray the great Eastern Emperor Justinian, his wife Theodora, and their court.

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia:

Ravenna is also home to some historic mausoleums, one of the most impressive is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. It has been termed by UNESCO as "the earliest and best-preserved of all mosaic monuments and at the same time one of the most artistically perfect."

Sant'Apollinare Nuovo:

Go to the Gothic period and see when the Gothic ruler, Theodoric, built the Sant' Apollinare Nuovo as his cathedral. It is also famous for its impressive mosaics depicting saints, prophets, and New Testament scenes.

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