The origins of Ravenna are still unknown. The first information linked to the history of Ravenna come from archaeological finds bearing witness to the existence of ancient houses built on piles dating back to an unspecified past age. The only certainty is that ancient Ravenna greatly prospered during the Roman Empire: apart from being one of the most important harbours in Italy and Europe, it was a powerful ally of the Roman army in the wars against the Gauls up to its annexation to Cisalpine Gaul. Another important step in the history of Ravenna took place in the Middle Ages, when it became the capital of the Western Roman Empire; during this period, Emperor Honorius and his sister Galla Placidia commissioned the building of many monuments, such as the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist and the church of Santa Croce.
In 476 AD, the Roman Empire declined and its last emperor, Romulus Augustus, abdicated. The city was taken over by Theodoric, the king of the Goths, who inaugurated the barbaric period of the history of Ravenna; he commissioned outstanding works of art, such as the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. The barbaric domination lasted up to the arrival of Justinian, the Byzantine emperor who reconquered the territories which had once belonged to the Romans. Italy was rescued by the barbaric invaders and Justinian chose Ravenna as the seat of his protectorate and Massimian as the archbishop of the whole district. In that period the building of many works of art was commissioned, such as the church of San Vitale, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe and the church of San Michele in Africisco, the latter being almost completely ruined.
In 751 Ravenna was attacked by barbaric gens once again and taken over by the Lombards. In 754, thanks to a special agreement struck with the king of France, the city became part of the Papal States even if Lombards never kept to the terms agreed and continued to occupy Ravenna up to 756, when the city declared its independence from the Papal States and power began to be wielded by local bishops. Later, when many free communes began to flourish all over Italy, the De Polenta Signoria was established there. They provided accommodation to Dante Alighieri who spent the rest of his life there.
Ravenna was subsequently controlled by the Venetians and became involved in the bloody War of the Holy League. After this period, the history of Ravenna was characterized by the domination of the Papal States which lasted for 350 years. Ravenna played an important role both during the unification of Italy and the World Wars. It was the stage of the death of Anita, the wife of the Risorgimento hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, and one of the most important bastions in the fight against Fascism. The city was repeatedly bombed during World War I, which caused serious damage to some of the most important monuments dating back to the ancient origins of Ravenna.
After World War II, Ravenna experienced a thriving industrial development, especially in the petrochemical and energetic sectors, standing out for its oil refinery and the extraction of natural gas.
Nowadays Ravenna is a renowned tourist resort which attracts large numbers of both Italian and foreign tourists every year. An important resort of the Riviera Romagnola for the largest funfair in Italy it hosts and its famous spa establishments, Ravenna is a lively tourist centre which provides accommodation in the numerous hotels which were built there after World War II.