Ravenna, a city with eight UNESCO heritage sites, gives remarkable insight into major changes which occurred in the Mediterranean world around 1500 years ago. When Rome was sacked, it had already ceased to be the capital of the Roman Empire for a long time. Several cities were the capitals, until Constantinople became the chief capital in 330. Ravenna, though, would serve as the last capital of the Western Roman Empire, governing it as it fell prey to the ‘barbarians’. It would also serve as the first capital of the Germanic Kingdom of Italy. Meanwhile the Eastern Empire - centered on Constantinople – continued to exist, even flourishing at times. Yet the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west would change Europe and the Mediterranean world permanently.
What we now call the Byzantine Empire can be considered distinct from the Roman Empire of the Classical Age largely due to its lack of the Western half. While eventually, the Byzantine Empire becomes clearly different from Rome of the Classical Era, this change was gradual. Ravenna, as the last capital of the Western Roman Empire, shows signs of both the continuity and shared changes of Late Antiquity, as European and Mediterranean cultures shifts from the Classical Era to the Medieval Era. In fact, it is one of the best places to see this dynamic, which was empire wide. Full of churches and art from Late Antiquity, it is an excellent place to see art of Late Antiquity, when the Roman world was in the process of being dominated by Christianity. It has the only example of in situ art of Arian Christianity. Ravenna also gives us a window into the world of Justinian, the last emperor to dream of restoring the Empire to its former position, which is visualized in churches like San Vitale. In addition to the spectacular mosaics, there are works of art in Ravenna, including several sarcophagi scattered across the city and the Throne of Maximian.