Mediaeval Splendour in Ravenna & Venice - Artistic Treasures of the Great Italian Cities

Prices from £2,095


4 Mar 2020 - 9 Mar 2020
Duration: 5 nights
Ref: 20RAVE
With: Dr Sally Dormer


Prices from £2,095
Single Supplement: £240
Deposit: £200

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In Ravenna we see the proof that even as the torch of the Roman Empire flared and guttered out, Europe was on the threshold of a period of incomparable artistic achievement. By the time Alaric sacked the Eternal City in 410, Ravenna had been the imperial capital for eight years. Its 5th-century Roman buildings, including the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, are consequently among the finest in existence, an unlikely patrimony for what had been a marshy, malarial garrison town. But Ravenna’s political importance had been established, and the Ostrogoths and later the Byzantines fought hard to capture it. Both the Gothic King Theodoric and the Byzantine Emperor Justinian made it their Italian capital, and both endowed it with treasures unparalleled in 6th-century Italy. Most glorious of all are the mosaics of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and San Vitale, arguably the finest examples of mosaic art ever created. As Ravenna’s golden age was moving towards decline, another city was rising from the waters. Venice was founded in the 5th century by refugees fleeing from the barbarian hordes that invaded the Italian peninsula after the collapse of the Roman Empire. It grew to wealth and power under the aegis of Ravenna and Constantinople, but it soon achieved such a dominant role in the Mediterranean that it challenged Constantinople itself, even sacking the city during the Fourth Crusade of 1204. Byzantine influence is found throughout the city, from the church of San Marco, modelled on a Byzantine church and filled with glorious booty plundered from Constantinople, to the architecture of some of the palaces on the Grand Canal. Further examples can be seen in the mediaeval quarters around the Rialto and the Santa Croce district, and in some of the splendid mediaeval churches on the other islands of the lagoon, such as Murano and Torcello. Join Dr Sally Dormer on this new Art Pursuits Abroad tour, which explores how the baton of power and artistic achievement was passed from one great Italian city to another.


""As radiant and luminous today as when they were set over a thousand years ago, the floors, wall and vault mosaics in Ravenna and the Venetian lagoon, bear testimony to the dexterity of medieval craftsmen and the magnificent wealth of the Middle Ages."

As the director of the Early Mediaeval year course at the V&A, Sally is an expert in mediaeval art and history. She is Dean of US study abroad undergraduate programmes for the University of the South and Rhodes College. Sally also lectures for the Art Fund and Arts Society.

DAY 1:

Morning flight from London Gatwick to Venice. By coach to Classe, Ravenna’s Ancient Roman port, where we will visit the first of Ravenna’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, the 6th-century Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Classe, which is dominated inside by a huge apse mosaic depicting the Transfiguration. The nearby archaeological museum contains numerous fascinating finds of different periods from Ravenna and the surrounding area. Continue to our four-star hotel in the heart of Ravenna where we’ll spend the first of two nights.

DAY 2:

A day to explore Ravenna on foot, starting with the mesmerizing starry mosaic sky of the 5th century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Next door rises the huge octagon of San Vitale, erected a century later and internally adorned with the haunting mosaic likenesses of the Byzantine Imperial couple Justinian and Theodora and their entourage. After lunch we visit the area around the Duomo: the baptistery of Bishop Neon, a converted Roman bath house, depicts a stately procession in mosaic of senatorial Apostles, while the Archiepiscopal Museum is the site of the early 6th century Chapel of St Andrew and repository of the Throne of Maximian, a singular ensemble of Early Christian ivory panels, probably made to hold a precious Gospel book. Continue to Saint Apollinare Nuovo, King Theodorio’s Palentine Church.

DAY 3:

Visit the Arian Baptistery and the Mausoleum of Theodoric before setting off by coach to Pomposa, a thousand-year-old abbey to the north of Ravenna and one of the most evocative sites in the Po delta. After lunch we continue to Venice, arriving at our four star hotel in the late afternoon for the first of three nights.

DAY 4:

Stroll around in the mediaeval district of Santa Croce, through Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini, to admire some of the best-preserved Venetian Byzantine palaces in Venice. The Fondaco dei Turchi, today the Natural History Museum, is a marvellous example of Venetian Byzantine architecture of the 13th century, if somewhat over-restored. Continue to the churches of San Giacomo dell’Orio and San Zandegolà, both of which still maintain original mediaeval plans. Afterwards, enjoy some free time for relaxation or independent explorations before regrouping for a special private evening visit to the Basilica di San Marco, a deeply moving and memorable experience.

DAY 5:

Full-day excursion to Aquileia and Grado. At Aquileia visit the ancient Roman port and the Early Christian complex including two large 4th century basilicas with stunning mosaic floors of the same period. Mainland invasions in the 6th century forced Aquileia’s residents to seek refuge in the lagoon town of Grado, our afternoon destination. Grado’s two ancient churches of Sant’Eufemia and Santa Maria delle Grazie date from this Early Christian period. In the evening, we enjoy a group meal together.

DAY 6:

By private boat to the glass-blowing island of Murano. The church of SS Maria e Donato boasts the most beautiful 12th century mosaic floor in the lagoon. Continue to Torcello to study the splendid mosaic of the Last Judgement in the millennium-old Cathedral of Torcello. After a final farewell lunch together on Torcello, we transfer by water taxi to Venice airport for our flight to London Gatwick.


Twin/double share: £2095 per person
Double room for sole use supplement: £240
Price of the tour without flights: £1895 per person
Deposit: £200 per person


  • Flights with British Airways from London Heathrow to Bologna & Venice to London Gatwick
  • Private coach transfers and excursions
  • Two nights’ bed and breakfast in Ravenna at the 4* Superior Palazzo Bezzi and three nights bed and breakfast in Venice at the 4* Superior Hotel Saturnia
  • Three dinners and two lunches
  • Guided visits to sites listed in the programme
  • Services of the Lecturer and Tour Manager
  • Detailed programme and study notes
  • All entrance fees, taxes and gratuities for coach drivers and waiters

Please Note: We will also arrange a transfer between Gatwick & Heathrow on 9th March due to recent flight changes.


Palazzo Bezzi, is a four star superior hotel in the heart of Ravenna, only a few steps away from the centre and from the most prestigious Byzantine mosaics. The hotel offers its guests all the charm of its old tradition, combined with care and attention to detail. Rooms are equipped with air conditioning, WiFi, telephone, minibar, TV and hairdryer.


Nestled in Venice’s heart near to St. Mark’s Square and La Fenice Theatre, this four star hotel features a truly charming atmosphere thanks to its unique Venetian style. The hotel is partly situated in a 14th century palace and the air conditioned rooms are fully equipped with WiFi, telephone, minibar, TV and safe.