Islands in the Middle of Lake Maggiore

LakeMaggiore-islands-by-MGoslin

Visiting Lake Maggiore – Part Two of Three

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Visiting the three small islands in the middle of Lake Maggiore

The Borromean Islands in the upper half of Lake Maggiore are very popular tourist destinations, and for good reason. There are regular ferry boats triangulated between the islands and the town of Stresa. If you like grand hotels and resort style travel, get a hotel room in the town of Stresa, which is situated right in front of these islands and is the easiest access point.

For the ferry schedules on Lake Maggiore, the best website to use is the official navigational website where you can look up schedules for Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Garda – click here for the website that is available in English.

*Insider Tip:  Ticket booths on the islands (for palace and garden entrance) often do not accept credit cards, but rather cash only and there are no ATM machines on the islands. So make sure to get cash in Stresa or elsewhere before going to the islands!

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Click here to see more travel photos of Lake Maggiore by Monica Goslin on PhotoShelter

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Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella is home to a grand Palace and terraced gardens. Carlo III of the Borromeo family constructed the Palace in the early 17th century and dedicated it to his wife Isabella, thus the name Isola Bella. The gardens are laid out in ten terraces, full of beautiful landscaping, statues, and wandering peacocks.

The admissions price for the palace and gardens on Isola Bella, is 13 Euros (price as of summer 2012) and is only open from March to October. The island can be reached by ferry or taxi boat.

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Isola Madre in Lake Maggiore

Isola Madre is the largest of the three Borromean Islands in Lake Maggiore and is mainly known for its extensive gardens. The Palace on Isola Madre (built in 1590) is interesting to see, with 16th and 19th century paintings and furnishing from the Borromeo family residences. My favorite part of Isola Madre is the Puppet Theatre rooms with large stage sets, puppets, and costumes, which remind me of the puppet show put on by the children in the “Sound of Music.”

You can visit the palace and gardens on Isola Madre for 11 Euros (price as of summer 2012) from late March to late October from 9am to 5:30pm.

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Isola dei Pescatori in Lake Maggiore

The Isola dei Pescatori, or Fishermen’s Island, is also known as Isola Superiore (keep this in mind when looking at ferry schedules). The Fishermen’s island in Lake Maggiore is in fact a very small village with actual residence year round (between 30 to 50 people in residence). The Isola dei Pescatori is 100 meters wide and 375 meters long and there are a few restaurants, cafes, and shops on the one main street/path.  The Church of San Vittore, on the main street, has a 16th century fresco, 17th century paintings, and an original apse from the 11th century.

It’s best to plan to have lunch on Fisherman’s island in-between visiting the other islands.

*Insider Tip: There are a few hotels on the island, and it is a great location. However, if you stay at a hotel on Isola Superiore, keep in mind that ferry boats do not run all night; the last ferry from Stresa to the Fishermen’s island is usually at 7pm (check updated schedules to be sure).

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*Insider Tip for weather and what to pack for Lake Maggiore: When visiting Lake Maggiore, no matter what time of year, bring an umbrella, raincoat, and a pair of shoes that you don’t care about and that can withstand torrential rain. Lake Maggiore can be battered by severe storms, rain storms that have the feel of a hurricane! One summer, I was waiting for a ferry boat from Stresa to Isola di Pescatori in the evening when all of a sudden there was driving rain, hail, and strong winds. The storm lasted for a few hours and you couldn’t even see the lake. The ferry boat that did show up, took three tries before it was able to dock! So be warned, Lake Maggiore has severe weather at times!

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Visiting Bergamo, Italy Part 2

Bergamo, Italy by Monica Goslin

Visiting Bergamo, Italy – Part Two: The Baptistry, Castle and Park, and how to get there

Bergamo, Italy is the epitome of a charming medieval town and modern city combined. Bergamo has a big city feel in the lower city where traffic is crazy; locals are having boisterous conversations with plenty of hand gestures, modern art exhibits and operas, and the general rush of big city life. While the upper city is a medieval maze of cobble stoned streets, charming cafes, grand piazzas and castle ruins.

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What to see and do in Bergamo, Italy – Part 2 (for more of what to see in Bergamo see part one).

The main tourist attraction is the upper city or “Citta alta” situated on a hill above the city.

* To see more photos of Bergamo, Italy click here.

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5 – The Baptistry – Next to the Chapel and the Basilica is a delicate, octagonal Baptistry from the 14th century. I have never been inside and I am not entirely sure if it is ever open to the public.

6 – Bergamo Cathedral – The Cathedral is white building catty-corner to the Basilica. The Cathedral of Bergamo is dedicated to the patron saint of the city – Saint Alexander. The current Cathedral dates back to the 17th century and the neo-classical façade is from the late 19th century. The interior is elegant but seems very toned down compared to the chapel and the Basilica.

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7 – Rocca – The Castle of Bergamo – The castle can be reached  by going up a steep narrow street to the right of cable car station (there is a small sign pointing to the castle but you will only see it if you are looking for it!). The main part of the castle is actually a public park so you can see a good deal of it for free! Plus make sure to walk around the entire park for panoramic views of both the upper and lower cities of Bergamo!

8 – Another Cable Car – If you walk to end of the “citta alta” you will find another cable card (through the old city gate and to the right) which takes you up to another small hill with more panoramic views of the city of Bergamo. You can also veto the cable car and simply walk up to the hill, which takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

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How to get to Bergamo’s “Citta alta”  – You can reach the medieval city by a cable car for just a few euros (best to by round trip ticket and there is no designated time on the ticket) or by foot. It is not advisable to drive up and into the upper city as parking is extremely limited and you would spend more time trying to find a spot then seeing the city.

How to get to Bergamo – The city of Bergamo is about an hour away from Milan by train or car. For train schedules and fares visit Rail Europe. Bergamo airport is right by the city as well, officially named Orio al Serio.

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* To see more photos of Bergamo, Italy click here.

Laglio on Lake Como, Italy

Laglio - Lake Como, Italy

The following post about Laglio and the surrounding towns on Lake Como, Italy is by guest blogger Chiara from www.italylakes.net (photo is also provided by my guest).

Thanks to Chiara for the collaboration and the great information!

Sincerely, Monica

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Welcome to Laglio!

Laglio, a village located on the Como fork of Lake Como, gained a considerable amount of fame after actor George Clooney purchased a beautiful lakeside villa there.

Located to the north of Cernobbio, Laglio offers visitors absolute peace and tranquility, making it an idea destination for   those wanting to get away from it all and be immersed in nature.  From the village, there are many enjoyable walks which wending their way into the surrounding hills and woods.   Another good way to explore the area around Laglio is by bicycle.

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Near to Laglio is quaint village of Brienno, which, with its medieval chracter, is well worth visiting. To the south of Laglio is the delightful town of Carate Urio, famous for its quarries, the stone from which was used to build many of the town’s houses.

What is there to see in Laglio itself? First of all, there is the baroque chiesa di San GiorgioChurch of St. George –  in the village centre.  This church features  impressive stucco and frieze work by eighteenth century Laglio resident Stefano Salterio.

Then, a short way away from the village, in the hamlet of Vergonzano, why not visit the late nineteenth century Villa Melograno, also known as Fasola, with its extensive and beautiful gardens.

In nearby Torrigia, a cave called the Buco dell’Orso Bear Hole – is to be found.  The cave got its name after remains of the Ursus Spelaeus or prehistoric cave bear were discovered there.

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For lots more information on Lake Como and northern Italy’s other scenic lakes and to find out about local festivals, shows, concerts, exhibitions and sporting events, visit the ItalyLakes.net blog (http:// www.italylakes.net/).

 
To book a holiday or a short stay in the Como area, visit the website of Vacanze Lago  (http://www.vacanzelago.com/en/index.php), a tour operator which specializes in organizing vacations in the areas around Italy’s northern lakes.

 

Travel tips for Lake Como, Italy – seeing small towns

Tremezzo, Italy by Monica Goslin

Small town of Lake Como, Italy – Part One

Lake Como, Italy is full of small towns that are often missed by tourists who only have a few days and see the main locations: Como, Bellagio, Varenna, and Villa Balbianello (all of which you can read about on this blog). But if you have the time and enjoy seeing charming Italian villages then read on.

I have spent a lot of time exploring Lake Como, Italy and I have seen the main attractions and continue to explore the smaller, less-known areas as well. Towns to see on Lake Como between Como and Menaggio:

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The towns to see between Como and Menaggio on Lake Como, Italy

Cernobbio

Cernobbio is an elegant town on Lake Como, not far from the city of Como. Every September the town hosts an international economic conference, the Ambrosetti Forum.

— Most notably is the Villa d’Este in Cernobio. The villa was built in 1568 for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, as his summer residence. The villa has 25 acres of gardens and since 1873 it has been a luxury hotel. The hotel also includes two private villas. The Villa Cima was built in 1814 by Caroline Brunswick, Princess of Wales and the Villa Malakoff was built in 1860.  For more information you can click here for the official website for the Villa d’Este and you can select English for the language.

*It is said that the security at the hotel is very intense and unless you are a hotel guest you can not get into the gardens. However with the right clothes and a nice smile, you can have lunch or coffee at one of the restaurants and then walk through the gardens.

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Moltrasio

 Moltrasio is a fairly large town right on the water and climbing up the mountain to the main road. If you start at the water’s edge (at the ferry stop and where the local road goes through town, also known as the Lungo Lago road) you will see the Posta Hotel. Go to the left of the Posta Hotel to find the paths that lead up into the town and that will take you to the main church. I do recommend eating lunch at the Posta Hotel restaurant, which has a nice outdoor seating with views of the lake and ferry stop and their salads and pasta dishes are very fresh (their Caprese salad is one of the best!).

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Ossuccio and Sala Comacina

 The towns of Ossuccio and Sala Comacina kind of run into each other and both are very charming. You can walk through the towns and make sure to find the path along the water. These towns have the main road of traffic cutting through them and no sidewalks on that road, so at times walking is a bit hair raising to say the least (just make sure to hug the wall of any building you are walking next to).

— Ossucio is home to the pilgrimage site of Sacro Monte. You can walk up to the church from the main road, it is all up hill, and past houses full of life-size diagrams of biblical scenes.

— Sala Comacina is a town with it’s own small island. Make your way down to the water to find the boats that will ferry you to and from the island where you can have lunch at the restaurant and then walk the entire length of the island and visit the ruins of a monastery from the 12th century.

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Tremezzo

Tremezzo is a lovely town and there is actually a sidewalk wide enough for two people right along the water. Tremezzo has a rather grand feel, especially as you reach the northern end of the town where the main road is lined with impressive hotels. I recommend walking along that sidewalk which takes you by the marina and into the public gardens which has a nice little café and a lovely grand fountain.

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These towns are good for a nice stroll, popping into the local church to see the paintings, and having a drink or a gelato before moving on to the next town.

** To see photos of Lake Como, Italy click here for Monica Goslin Photography where you can browse photos and buy prints.

– Plus to see photographs of the individual towns you can click on the town name.

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How to get to these small towns:

Most of these small towns do have ferry stops but not frequently so you really have to check schedules, or you could be stranded in one very small town for hours. Renting a boat and seeing the towns from the water is another nice was to travel and see more of what the lake has to offer.

And of course you can always rent a car, but in order to rent a car and drive around Lake Como, let along Italy, you have to be prepared for very narrow and windy roads.

For ferry schedules for Lake Como click here for the official website.

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A note on driving around Lake Como, Italy (in case you missed the last post on this).

 – If you are trying to get from one town to another quickly, you should take the main road. However for a more picturesque route that takes you through towns you would take the lower road – Lungo Lago, along the lake.

 Driving along Lake Como is a unique and mostly teeth clenching experience. While driving along Lake Como you have to be extremely vigilant of motorcycles darting in and out of cars and the packs of bike riders in their sleek gear and colorful uniforms that you will encounter all throughout the day and on every road and at every turn. Not to mention that driving through the towns on Lake Como means narrow streets between houses where really only one car can fit.

If you get stuck behind a tour bus, you are in a for long and slow ride as that bus tries to scrape between buildings and by cars (literally). Note other driver’s expressions as they see a tour bus or truck coming towards them. In fact some cafes in these small towns open right onto the main street and if they can squeeze a few tables right by the road they do. I honestly think the road side cafes are for the locals to watch the traffic and look for the terrified expressions of the tourist drivers; local entertainment for sure!

Travel tips for Bellagio, Italy

Travel tips for Bellagio, Italy – beautiful town on Lake Como

Bellagio, Italy on Lake Como by Monica Goslin

Bellagio, one of the best known towns on Lake Como where ladies can buy beautiful straw handbags and men can buy silk ties. Bellagio is also home to the Rockefeller Foundation and close by are The Gardens of the Villa Melzi.

What to see and do in Bellagio, Italy:

1 – Shopping – Bellagio is another ritzy town on Lake Como but with a smaller scope than Como. Walk along the lake to find stores selling beautiful hats, colorful straw bags, and gorgeous scarves. Make your way up the different cobble stone paths (steep steps so comfortable shoes are advised!). You will find various small art galleries, purse/bag stores, antique shops, hand painted pottery, and kitchenware made out of olive tree wood. ~ For silk products and straw bags I recommend the Saraceno store: there is one shop on the main shopping street across from the people ferry stops, and a Saraceno outlet store up the stairs across from the Hotel Metropolo.

2 – Basilica of San Giacomo – The Basilica was constructed between 1075 and 1125 and sits at the top of the town.

3 – Rockefeller Foundation – The Rockefeller Foundation has conferences and also prestigious residencies for scholars (residencies are available for one month to no more then 20 scholars/artists at a time). The foundation has been in Bellagio since 1960. You can take a tour of the grounds (which involves a lot of walking up hill), and although you can not tour the house you do get a glimpse of the villa and the gardens are gorgeous. I have been on the Rockefeller Foundation tour two different times and actually had a different walking route each time so saw new things! The tour guides are very knowledgeable and always eager to answer questions.

To make a tour: Buy tickets in advance. The ticket office is on the right side of the plaza by the Basilica of San Giacomo in an old stone tower. Tours are available from April to the 2nd of November from 11 am to 4pm. There are no tours on Mondays. Buy tickets in advance as only groups of 20-30 people are allowed at a time. Tickets are 8.50 euros and the tours last about an hour and a half.

4 – Walk along the lake and have a gelato! – This is an essential activity while visiting Lake Como in the Spring or Summer; I make sure to have gelato at least once a day while traveling in Italy in the summer!

5 – Villa Melzi – If you walk along the lake, away from the ferries, you will reach the gardens of the Villa Melzi which you can enter for a ticket price of 6 euros and 4 euros for students. (Gardens are open from the 28th of March to the 30th of October). The villa was built between 1808 and 1810 for Francesco Melzi d’Eril who was nominated the Duke of Lodi by Napoleon, and later became the Chancellor of the Empire.

Overall Bellagio, Italy is a beautiful town and a wonderful day trip!

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To see more photos of Bellagio and other towns on Lake Como, Italy click here for Monica Goslin Photography.

For framed photos, canvas prints, and photo books on Lake Como click here for The Monica Store.

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How to get to Bellagio, Italy:

The best way is by ferry from Menaggio, Varenna or Cadenabbia; ferries are frequent and provide a leisurely ride with of course spectacular views the whole way! You can get a hydrofoil boat from Como but it is quite a long way. And of course you can drive, although the road between Bellagio and Como is narrow with lots of curves; so you spend most of the time hoping you make it to your destination and driving with white knuckles.

Travel tips for Como, Italy

Como, Italy - gardens at Villa Olmo

What to do and see in Como, Italy on Lake Como

Como is one of the main cities on the Lake Como and it is a ritzy shopping location. Como is a great place to visit for a day trip if that is all the time you have, and you can see the main sights in a day. (Read to the end to learn a fun fact about Como, Italy!).

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Maint Sights to see in Como, Italy

1 – Duomo – Cathedral: The main Cathedral in Como is stunning both inside and out. The Cathedral dates back to 1396 when construction started. The façade of the church, with the rose window, was built in 1457 and the entire building was completed by 1740. Inside you will find tapestries and artworks from the 16th and 17th centuries.

2 – Basilica di San Fedele – This stone church was built in the 12th century (although the bell tower was rebuilt). Note the door with medieval decorations and the beautifully black and white tiled floor.

3 – Villa Olmo – The large villa can be reached by walking along the lake and through the large park. The Villa Olmo was built in 1797 and housed many important figures including Napoleon and Archduke Franz Ferdinand I. The villa now houses art exhibitions and the gardens are free to walk through.

4 – Funicular up to Brunate: Take the funicular up the mountain for spectacular views of the city and the lake. It is only 4,50 euros for a roundtrip ticket. However if it is a hazy day you will not see that far, so make sure to go on a clear day. Unless you plan to make the trek up to the lighthouse (on top of the mountain) there isn’t much else to see other then a quick walk through the town of Brunate. If you decide to meander through the town, wear good walking shoes, as there are many steep steps and cobblestone streets. (Also note that the funicular is very steep and if you are afraid of heights or wary of small contraptions or claustrophobic you might not enjoy the ride).

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These are the main sights but otherwise it is essential to walk around the city of Como and literally get lost. You will see beautifully painted and decorated buildings, so architecture and art lovers will be thrilled with Como! Explore the streets, see the fancy shops, dodge the bike riders, eat gelato, and marvel at the beautiful buildings. Enjoy!

To see more photos of Como, Italy click here for Monica Goslin Photography.

To buy framed photos and photo books on Lake Como, Italy click here for The Monica Store.

*For a special accordion card of Lake Como, Italy click here!

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How to get to Como, Italy

1 – Take a train to Como from Milan. If you take a train from Milan’s main train station you can get a direct train to Como (ride is an hour long). If you are going right from the airport (Malpensa) you still have to take a train to the main train station (from the airport, take a train to the main train station: 40 minute ride).

For fares and schedules click here for the always useful Rail Europe website.

2 – There are also various boats/ferries from different towns on Lake Como.

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Key travel tips for Como, Italy:

1 – It is a bike town. Most of the historical downtown is pedestrian, with the occasional car/truck to watch for but you need to be aware of the bike riders!

2 – Bring an umbrella! – I have been to Como more then a dozen times and only one time did it not rain!

3 – If you do not have time to take the funicular up to the top of the mountain it is okay  – while it is beautiful up there the main things to see are the views and a few beautiful villas. Find the funicular by walking along the lake and follow the signs to the funi. A round trip ticket on the funicular is 4,50 Euros.

4 – If visiting the area in the summer, ladies make sure to bring a light scarf to put on your shoulders to enter Cathedrals – you will not be let in with strapless tops or tank tops. This is a general rule for most of Europe!

5 – Beware the traveling in Italy on Easter weekend means crowds – lots and lots of people in cities and on trains. If you travel anywhere in Italy on Easter weekend book hotels and trains way in advance!

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Fun and crazy fact about Como, Italy: The Rockefeller fountain at the Bronx Zoo in New York City was once in the main square in Como! The fountain was purchased by William Rockefeller in 1902 for about 600 dollars and invested 25,000 dollars to bring it to New York City!

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For information about Lake Como and all of Northern Italy’s major lakes click here for italylakes.net

Ravenna, Italy – Travel tips and What to See

Ravenna, Italy Basilica San Vitale

Travel tips and What to See in Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna, Italy is a beautiful city with a deep history. If planning a trip to Ravenna, Italy I suggest that you allow at least two full days as there is a lot to see.  You will find lovely streets, a bustling old city center with restaurants and shops, and of course all the main sights to see.

Below I will highlight the main sights, although descriptions do not do these buildings, artwork, and mosaics justice; you have to see them in person! Or you can see my photographs of Ravenna, Italy the Monica Goslin Photography Website via photoshelter (each site below also links to the appropriate image).

And a quick tip before we get started – watch for the bike riders! Ravenna is a city of bikes so make sure you watch for them when walking around!

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What to see in Ravenna, Italy:

1 – Basilica of San Vitale – This should be your first stop because it is one of the main sights and it will take you a while to see since you will spend a while gawking at the interior of this Basilica!

The church was built from 527 to 548, and started by Bishop Ecclesius. It is reported that the construction was sponsored by a Greek banker who also sponsored the Basiclica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe (discussed later on and another must see sight!).

The Basilica of San Vitale has an octagonal shape and is famous for the Byzantine mosaics which are some of the largest and best preserved. This is one of the most important examples of Christian Byzantine art and architecture. The mosaics are stunning, so detailed, and it is truly remarkable that they have survived. There are biblical scenes and I recommend having a guide book with you that describes the mosaics in full so you can fully appreciate them.

Two mosaic panels of note are at the foot of the apse. One panel depicts the East Roman Emperor Justinian I standing with court officials, guards, and deacons. The other panel depicts Empress Theodora and her court ladies. These panels were made in 548!

2 – Mausoleum of Galla Placidia – This small brick building is next to the Basilica of San Vitale and holds another set of incredible mosaics. The building houses three sarcophagi: Galla Placidia, the daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, her brother the Emperor Valentinian II, and her husband, the Emperor Constantius III. The mosaics are again very detailed with scenes of apostles and saints.

3 –Baptistry of Neon – This brick building was erected in the 4th and 5th century. The Baptistry also has an octagonal shape with four niches and a dome covered in mosaics that depicts the baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist with the apostles circling the scene. The Baptistry is next to the Cathedral of Ravenna, which is lovely if you have time to pop in to see it.

4 – Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo –  This Basilica  has passed through many hands and changed names numerous times. The Basilica was built by the Ostrogoth King Theodoric, who used it as his palace chapel during the 6th century. In 561 the Basilica was under the rule of the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I. There is a legend that Pope Gregory the Great had the mosaics blackened, claiming that the golden colors distracted worshippers. In 856 the Basilica was renamed again, holding the name it has today. The mosaics along the walls have been renovated, especially after World War One when they sustained some damage.

What are you looking at… Well there are different rows of mosaics along the walls. At the top, there are 13 scenes depicting Jesus’ miracles on the left side and 13 scenes depicting the Passion and Resurrection on the right side. The next row shows saints and prophets; sixteen on each side (between the windows) and you can see the Hellenistic-Roman tradition of each figure having a unique expression. And the bottom row is in the Byzantine style. The bottom left row is a procession of 22 Virgins, led by the Three Magi who are moving towards the Madonna and Child. The right bottom row is another procession of 26 Martyrs who are led by Saint Martin and moving towards a group representing Christ who is surrounded by four angels.

5 – Dante’s Tomb – Not far from the Basilica of Sant’Appolinare Nuovo, you can stop by Dante’s Tomb and pay your respects to the Italian poet responsible for you having to read the Divine Comedy in high school.

6 – Bishops Palace and the Archbishop’s Chapel – If you have time, visit the Bishops Palace which serves as a museum. On the first floor (meaning second floor) you will see the Archbishop’s Chapel with mosaics dating from the 6th century. The chapel is dedicated to Saint Andrew, although it was originally dedicated to the Savior representing Christ as a general treading on the beasts. It is said this is the only Early Christian private oratory to have survived to the present day.

7 – Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe – This Basilica is just on the outskirts of the city and can be reached by car (although directions are a bit confusing, so if you can get a taxi that would be easier). The Basilica is dedicated to Saint Apollinaris, the first bishop of Ravenna and dates back to the 6th century! The surviving mosaics at the apse are stunning. Above the apse there are the four Evangelists and Christ, with lambs beneath them (twelve to symbolize the Twelve Apostles). The arch has a scene of a pasture with Saint Apollinaris in the center. Between the windows of the apse are the four bishops who founded the main basilicas in Ravenna. The faded mosaics along the walls are of some of the archbishops of Ravenna. So while it is a bit out of the way, it is worth it to see this Basilica!

Hope this was helpful and enjoy your visit to Ravenna, Italy!

Click here for more photos of Ravenna, Italy visit Monica Goslin Photography for stock images and prints.

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How to Get to Ravenna, Italy:

–          You can take a train. If you are coming from Milan you do have to switch trains but the total travel time is about 4 hours. If you are coming from Bologna you also have to switch trains and the total travel time is about 1 ½ hour.

–          For more train times click here for the Rail Europe website.

–          The nearest airport is in Bologna and Rimini.

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When to go visit Ravenna, Italy:

– Weather is mild in the region and evens summers are not too bad since there is a breeze as the city is not far from the Adriatic Sea. (However there are little bugs that bite, not mosquitoes, but bring bug spray if you visit in the summer).