Published on Monday, June 4, 2012

What does a city do after it has ruled the world

Ravenna takes a millennium or so to re-invent itself as a good place to live and a great place to visit

You don"t have to do the figures to work out whether a destination is sustainable or not. Just go to a place, talk to some people, buy some things, eat some food, you should be able to feel the ambiance all around you. If not, it"s not worked.

And getting to the stage where tourism works, both for tourists and for destinations is a pretty long and interesting process.

In Ravenna"s case, building up a stock of tourism assets meant that she had to start off as the capital of the western world back in 402AD. Being a world power and dominating the Adriatic attracted, of course, the usual cast of wild and wonderful characters and massive wealth plus lots and lots of history and really great stories to add to its tourism inventory.

For instance., women and power has been a pretty potent combination through the ages and Ravenna had the pick of the crop starting with 4th century Galla Placidia  . This remarkable lady was daughter of an emperor, then wife to a Goth Emperor and finally mother to and consort of yet another emperor.

Another Ravenna woman(gorgeously depicted in Ravenna mosaics) was the totally fabulous 6th century"s great dancer, Teodora This lady started off in life as the beautiful young daughter of the trainer of the blue chariot team in Constantinople, progressed to performing on stage in a brothel at the age of 16 and within just a few years was married to emperor Justinian. There were and are many more top drawer women in Ravenna including Byron"s lover Teresa Guiccioli.

And, of course, all this wealth and power, passion and glamorous women attracted amazing art, architecture and writing (Dante for instance!). There could be no place in the western world with just so many exotic mosaics, palaces, basilicas and tombs delivering an extraordinary heritage to the modern inhabitants. It is rightly a World Heritage site.

Ravenna has one other critical asset - its position. Originally the city was a major seaport, crossroad between the west and the east, but gradually the sea receded and the city"s power diminished leaving it close enough to the coast to get lots of amazing seafood but not quite close enough for naval battles.
Ravenna"s position also delivered more great culinary heritage - it is the next stop on the via Emilia from Bologna, capital of great Italian food and right in the heart of the great agricultural and vinicultural wealth of the Po valley.

What more could you want? Great history, culture, art architecture, fabulous food - perhaps a bit of peace and quiet in which to enjoy it?

After all the wars and political power struggles, Ravenna is now pretty much tranquil and sidelined at the end of the via Emilia,, close by the sea but far away enough to keep out of trouble.

The question now is: How to carry on having a great party after all the power and wealth has dried up and how get the money to look after all these amazing works of art and architecture? Tourism of course was the answer - just like Ravenna"s younger sister up the coast, Venice.

The Ravennate (as the inhabitants of Ravenna are called) are pretty canny - and they wanted to do tourism in a way that allowed them to enjoy themselves as they always had without making too many concessions. In other words to create a great place to live that would also deliver a tourism experience that worked.

Key to this is to attract the sort of tourists that the Ravennate find acceptable and pleasant.
One of the ways to do this is to have a party that you know you"ll enjoy and invite others to it - like the Ravenna Festival in fact four festivals,  April, May, June and July and November. Choc a bloc with amazing performances that delight residents and tourists alike, the Ravenna Festival is a cultural stunner - and it works at many levels. No wonder Ravenna is going for "European City of Culture 2019"

Another way is to manage your tourism to attract groups that won"t mess up your evenings - cultural groups, school groups and day trippers. Well, the culture seekers and the school groups are easy when you"ve got such an amazing stock of art and architecture. Another advantage of Ravenna"s geographic position is a swathe of coastal resorts (including iconic destination Rimini with 2million+ package tourists a year) and a nearby port ready and waiting for up-market cruises. Cultural day trips are ideal for both, then the Ravennate can stroll around their beautiful city in peace and calm after the tourists have left.

That's the visitor numbers sorted. But how to make sure that their visit is productive both in revenue for Ravenna"s inhabitants and experience for the visitors?

A stock of accommodation, leisure and retail services that are locally-owned, staffed and managed is a great start. In other words - local shops, restaurants and hotels providing employment and profit for local people and a really authentic experience for visitors. A tourism experience with integrity, in other words.

the shaded garden

Take the Casa Masoli, for instance. One of the most authentic, stylish and thoughtful experiences you could find anywhere in the world.

The Masoli B&B is a small palace built at the end of the seventeenth century, with fabulous rooms and a delightful Linden tree-shaded courtyard. The Masoli family who own it have carefully restored the building and decorated it stylishly, sympathetically and with a great deal of verve. There are lovely original paintings, family photographs and literally thousands of books available to guests.  Antique furniture and carefully-chosen decorative and functional items are dotted everywhere. Take the moderately-priced Raspone 5 room suite, for instance. There"s an ante room/library, sitting room, bedroom (with fresco and 4 poster bed), dressing room, and fabulous wood panelled Art Deco bathroom with mosaic-floored shower and marble bath. With the room comes TV, fridge, WIFI router, teas (with silver teapot), leather chesterfield, four big windows and lots and lots of art.

making pasta

Breakfast in the sunny breakfast room is a delight and includes lots of local specialities.
Apart from being a unique B&B, the house is clearly a welcoming home for family and guests alike. Naturally that includes free WIFI

More importantly the family that own and run the guest house are grounded here and are really part of Ravenna"s business community -three generations of the family Masoli - mother, daughter and granddaughter both own and run the B&B and a small chain of upmarket fashion shops in the city.

This is true all over Ravenna - local people run a guide co-operative, are designing and creating small, unique upmarket accommodations, local people are doing what they do best using their talents to create a tourism offer that both honours their heritage and delights visitors.

The result is that everybody benefits. Locals get economic benefits that preserve  their heritage and enhance their lifestyle; tourists get an authentic experience that is delivered honestly and with enthusiasm. That"s hospitality at its very best.

Valere Tjolle


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