The Ancient Port of Classe

The Archaeological site of the Ancient Port is the first stop-over of the Archaeological Park of Classe, developed around the Church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. The Museum of the city and the territory and the Church of San Severo will enrich soon the entire area.

 More information






The discovery


The excavation


The project



La città portuale di Classe e, sullo sfondo, Ravenna nel VI secolo d. C. (disegno ricostruttivo di Jean-Claude Golvin)

The port town of Classe and background Ravenna during the VI century A.D. (drawing by Jean-Claude Golvin)

The Ancient Port of Classe is an archaeological area located 4 km far from the centre of Ravenna. Here the visitors can have an approximately view of how the streets of the harbour were but also of where the buildings of the harbour (from V-VI century) were situated. In these centuries, the port was at the top of its importance as commercial seaport.

The archaeological site of the Ancient Port is located at the entrance of the harbour.
Here, at the end of the I century AD, Ottaviano Augusto built the big docks of the harbour, which allowed the entrance of the ships from the sea to the harbour.

The itinerary tour covers an area of 10.000 mq and proposes places daily frequented by people who worked in the warehouses or people who reached Classe from the harbour. Visitors get totally involevd in the atmosphere of the archaeological site.
The itinerary begins with the Visitor Center with its elliptical multimedial room, where the multiple wall and floor projections have been designed as a single system of visual involvement in order to present an historical, geographical and archaeological view of the site.
After the Visitor Center, visitors continue their walk entering the real archaeological area: here they can find a typical roman street , (stone paving street = strada basolata) and the basis of ancient warehouses, which were used for the loading and unloading of the products.
The tour itinerary continues along the route, developed around the port and the ancient paved road: here are installed 10 thematic panels showing iconographic and textual explanations and 5 reconstructive perspective views, graphic overlay panels, made of glass, showing the architectural reconstructions of elements, that are no more visible, overlapping the view of the rear landscape and giving back an idea of the complex as it was supposed to be in the ancient time.

top ^


Stele-ossuario di Mont(ano) Capitone, classiario (marinaio) della flotta militare di Classe nell’epoca giulio-claudia (I secolo d. C.)

Stele-ossuary of Mont(ano) Capitone, a sailor of the military fleet of Classe (I century A.D.)

During the Roman Age, Ottaviano Augusto established in Ravenna the fleet which should have defended the Adriatic Sea. In this period, the establishment of Classe has been defined.

The settlement was called “Classe” ( this name derives from the latin word classis which means “fleet”) just during the Late Imperial and Byzantine Age, when it looked like the image in the mosaic of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (VI century).
The settlement was enclosed by walls, built during the VI century, with a door and a canal of the Roman Age.
This canal was made smaller and was partially closed and became an harbour during the Byzantine Age: from this harbour, small commercial ships can go out and go in just following the tide’s flow.

During the V century, Ravenna became the capital of the Byzantine Empire and,consequentially, the “civitas Classis” grown its importance: it became a military bastion of the sea and very important in a commercial way. The general system of streets and building visible in the archaeological area, is from this period (V century).

In 584, Faraoldo I, Langobard Duke of Spoleto, attacked and ravaged Classe. But, thanks to Duke Droctulfo, a regretful Langobard and now with the Empire, Byzantine people owned again their town Classe.

The VII century was an important turning point for Classe. In 712 Faraoldo II, another Langobard Duke of Spoleto, occupied Classe again: King Liutprando gave back the town to the Byzantine people. Unexpectedly, in 718, the same King Liutprando besiedged Ravenna and attacked Classe. Then, between the 726 and 744, the town was victim of a terrible earthquake which destroyed part of some of the most important buildings, for exemple the Petriana Cathedral.

In the 751, King Astolfo conquered Ravenna and probably also Classe.

After these events, Classe was slowly left. The few habitants moved their houses near the main churches.

Gradually the name of Classe started to be associated to the Church of Saint Severo (here, the germanic Emperor Ottone I established his palace in the X century) and the Church of Saint Apollinare Nuovo.

top ^

The discovery

Veduta aerea dell’Antico Porto di Classe

Air view of the Ancient Port of Classe

Scientists and researchers have been always interested to the history of Classe both because of its importance as harbour of the Roman military imperial fleet and because of the different finds discover during the agricultural work.

In the 1881, F. Lanciani and the Genio Civile began the building of the railway Ravenna – Rimini: during these works, the first find has been discovered. They concern evidences of different buildings and different ages (for exemple, something about the Petriana Cathedral has been found and also some pillars of a building near the ancient harbour hve been discovered).




After the Second World War, Classe became very interesting for a lot of reserachers, which started different penetrometer surveys made by G. Cortesi and A. Roncuzzi, usually followed by excavations campaigns.

The outer breakwaters of the harbour were tracked down ( in the 1961, excavations in the 1972); the excavation of the Church of Saint Severo was started and some Roman graves and part of the citywalls were found (in the 1964). Then, in 1965-1968, a Roman domus has been excavated and in 1966 the necropoli of the Farm Meneghetti was found.
In the 1970 the necropolis of Palazzette was excavated and in the Farm Gattamorta, the riuns of some housing structures were tracked down.

The first not funeral ruin found, is the head of Tyche,that the visitor can admire at the National Museum of Ravenna: it was found during some agricultural works, in the 1972, in the Mazzotti’s farm.
This was the final sign that in this area, important discoveries should have been done. For this reason but also following the earlier surveys, a big excavation campaign started.

In the 1975, the Association of Excavation of the town and the Roman Port of Classe, started an exploratory excavation beside the railway, in the Chiavichetta’s Farm, whom owner was Romano Zuccheri; this excavation went across the island, the canal and the buildings of the South Area but also a street and stopped in an area called kiln because of many anphoras and ceramics found.

The first excavation campaign

The next excavation campaign of the Superintendency of Archaeological Assets of Emilia Romagna started, obviously, from this area; in the 1975-76 the canal side of some warehouses of the harbour were found: they were built in reused clay, with external and internal forches separated by pillars; usually there were also a small internal yard and a loft made by wood.
Buildings were separated by covered drainage systems which were also lanes connecting the street and the canal.

top ^

The excavation

Studenti al lavoro presso l’Antico Porto di Classe

Students working in the Ancient Port of Classe

After the discovery of this area of the Ancient Port (1975) and the first excavation campaigns, between the 80’s and the 90’s, new excavations started.
Reserchers found: one of the main warehouse; they inspected other buildings and some works between the branches of the canal revealed another typical Roman street (stone paved street).

The excavation campaigns in Classe started again in 2001, thanks to the University of Bologna, the Superintendency of Archaeological Assets of Emilia Romagna and since 2003 also thanks to Ravennantica.

After some little excavation campaigns, a big area has been investigated: here people worked continuously for 2 years.

This big area reveals the life of the entire harbour’s quarter: starting from its birth during the V century, to its state of abandon in the VII century.

During the V century the port’s warehouses has been built; reaserachers found two different kinds of structures: the first type had the porch on the front exposed to Ravenna and the porch on the back exposed on the canal. The other structure had an internal yard on the back.

An unexpected discovery was the finding of a warehouse burnt during the V century and never rebuilt: this allowed the discovery of everything was in that warehouse exactly where it was before the fire: the big african anphoras, the spatheia, a lot of oil lamps etc etc.
An extraordinary commercial point of view of Ravenna and the West and an important opportunity to understand how a warehouse of an harbour worked during the late-ancient age.

Moreover, the excavation explained something about this area after this period, when the warehouses became houses and next to them people buried the dead.
Probably handcrafted activities characterised people’s life: glass production, metal manufactury and later, during the VII century, the production of containers in ceramic.
Seven new warehouses are from this period: they are smaller than the others and made by wood.
But Classe is changing, the Middle Age is arriving and the town is falling down.

top ^

The project

Vista notturna del percorso

Night view of the itinerary

The Ancient Port is part of a bigger project; it’s the first stop of the Archaeological Site of Classe, which includes also the Saint Severo Cathedral and the Church of Saint Apollinare in Classe and the Museum of Classe.

The architect Daniela Baldeschi is the supervisor of the group of planning of this project.
The project has as goal the promotion of the entire area, in particular the entrance and the area of the archaeological excavation. Everything has been thought to recreate the first function and the historical importance of one of the most active commercial harbour of the ancient world.

The entrance to the archaeological site brings visitors, through a pedestrian area, inside a big square.
The ticket office, the bookshop and the “Visitor Center” are on this square.
Visitors can enter the “Visitor Center” where a video introduces to the archaeological area.
Here visitors can find also an educational room suitable for workshops and the restrooms.

The route, inside the archaeological area, allows a phisical and visual impact on the archaeological structures. Access and services without any architectural barriers, allow the entrance to everybody.

Where the old bridge was, now there’s an orizontal boardwalk.
The paving suggests to visitors the real development of the itinerary.
The itinerary is developed in six different stops (the island, the bridge, the towpath, the streets and the warehouses on the canal sid and the buildings on the south side of the excavation (called “building 17”).

Along the itinerary, perspectival sheets recreate architectural elements that don’t exist anymore overling the panorama all around.
Thanks to these sheets, visitors can imagine and understand how that place originally was.

Moreover, from strategic panoramic viewpoints, visitors can have a completely view of the archaeological site.

top ^