Mausoleum of Theodoric – The legend of the Barbarian King

Mausoleum of Theodoric – The legend of the Barbarian King


The most peculiar thing is that the dome is one piece of marble of Dalmatia, and those who say having measured it assured me that it measures 10.76 meters in diameter per one meter thick and it weights at least 250 tons: it is a nice piece and the circular shape that has been given to it must be the reason why today we call it the Round.

(Aubry de La Montraye)


The legend says that the great Gothic king Theodoric was predicted that he would have died because of a lightning strike. To overcome this adversity, the king ordered the construction of a place where he could seek refuge in every rainy day, a place protected and indestructible covered by a dome so powerful that it would never be tarnished. But the prophecy, which is most
incisive than human will, took over and came true anyway: in a rainy night a lightning fell from the sky and tore the big dome, spearing to death Theodoric who had taken refuge inside.
Theodoric, after defeating Odoacer, king of the Roman Empire, reigned over Ravenna from 493 to 526 A.D. beginning the period of Gothic domination. The barbaric dynasty had a great influence in our city so that Ravenna got the nickname "City of Theodoric". It was a flourishing period in which many buildings that still enhance our city were built such as the Arian Cathedral (now Church of the Holy Spirit), the Arian Baptistery and the church adjacent to the Imperial Palace (now Sant'Apollinare Nuovo), nearby a building that is erroneously called Palace of Theodoric but it actually is a unique piece of pre-Romanesque architecture almost certainly dated after the domination of the Gothic king.
However the most important monument tied to Theodoric is certainly his Mausoleum that was built shortly after the 520 A.D.. Built with Istrian stone, the building is an impressive sarcophagus more than 15 meters high and featuring two superimposed orders: the bottom cell is decagonal and it recalls to the Roman tradition as inside it features a Greek cross plan and it was probably a place for worship or to contain the graves of Theodoric's family members; the higher order, reachable through an iron staircase added to the monument in 1927, has a circular room of Germanic derivation inside, with one niche that houses a red porphyry basin which perhaps contained the body of the king who died in Ravenna in August 526 and whose remains were removed during Byzantine domination.
The most interesting part of the mausoleum is the single-piece dome, on which it is clearly visible the crack that gave rise to the legend and that probably was caused instead by a collision during its laying. The giant monolith was commissioned by Theodoric himself as a symbol of power and it is still the largest monolith ever used as a dome.
The building is a meeting between the Roman world and the Barbarian one, a petrified expression of what Theodoric tried to achieve during his reign. Despite the legend tells of his inglorious end, Theodoric was able to recover the stability and the splendour of the past and brought years of peace and prosperity in Ravenna.
He was able to bring together and make co-exist peacefully two populations, Romans and Barbarians, which were very different from each others, keeping separate laws, religious worship and customs.
Over time the mausoleum was left to decline and incorporated in other buildings: for instance the church of Santa Maria della Rotonda, built in the Ninth century, that borrowed the name from the circular dome (rotonda means round). The early works to separate the building are dated 1719, while in 1809 was carried out the first restoration that brought back the Mausoleum to its initial state. Since 1996 it is part of world heritage monuments protected by UNESCO and today it is surrounded by a beautiful stretch of green called Theodoric Park.
mausoleo di teodorico ravenna
mausoleo di teodorico ravenna

How to get there

By bus: Bus n. 2 e 5
By car: follow the signs to Mausoleo di Teodorico.
Free parking in the area in front of the mausoleum is allowed.

Opening time and tickets

The site is open from Sunday to Saturday
Closed on January 1st, May 1st and December 25th
The site is not accessible to disabled people

- Full price € 4,00
- Reduced price € 2,00
- Free for EU citizens under 18.

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