The Archiepiscopal Museum of Ravenna was founded in the first half of the XVII century and is deeply connected with the history of the ancient Basilica of Ursus which in the seventeen forties was demolished by Archbishop Niccolò Farsetti. The demolition and renewal of the building was assigned to Gianfrancesco Buonamici of Rimini who in the volume “Metropolitana di Ravenna” left us the drawings of the ancient building, the new plans and valuable information about the history of the museum. It is here in fact that we find the account of how it came into existence: “When it was decided to demolish the old basilica of Ursus, they began with the floor. This consisted of a large quantity of long wide Greek marble slabs which, being left to the mercy of the builders, were removed wholly or in fragments and gathered in a pile. It was only by luck that Domenico Vandelli, an erudite mathematician from Modena (…) happened to be present during the demolition works. Fortunately he noticed that the characters chiselled into the slabs left an impression in the soil underneath. Being a cultured man, he understood the mystery of the imprints and informed Archbishop Farsetti in such a way that he too appreciated the great value of the ancient slabs, and convinced him to save them”.
The Archiepiscopal Museum thus commenced as a lapidary in the room which at that time was and atrium in the bishop’s palace to Saint Andrew’s Chapel . It is thanks to the engravings in the text by Buonamici that we know the original layout of this first nucleus. The lapidary room was then reorganised in the first half of the eighteen hundreds keeping most of the same exhibits from the preceding displays. With Giuseppe Gerola, Superintendent in Ravenna from 1909-1918, the museum was extended and reorganised again. Reconstruction work was done on the episcope and the archiepiscopal chapel creating new areas in the museum for various materials from archaeological excavations and the churches of the diocese. These new exhibits were mainly the works of art that make the museum world famous such as the silver cross of Bishop Agnellus (6th century), the ivory throne of Archbishop Maximian (6th century), the chasubles of Angeloptes and Rinaldo da Concorrezzo previously kept in the sacristy of the cathedral. In the nineteen fifties and sixties it was Mons. M. Mazzotti, priest and archaeologist of the diocese, director of the museum and the archiepiscopal archives, who enlarged the collections adding exhibits from the archaeological digs which he led within the diocese. On 6 February 2010 the museum was reopened after some years of closure for the reconstruction of the episcope. The museum is even larger not only in terms of the collections but also the display areas. The second floor where the archiepiscopal archive was kept until the nineteen nineties is now entirely available for the museum and in addition to the old exhibits it contains two new sections, the gallery of pictures from the diocese and part of the “treasure of the cathedral” which is here on display to the public for the first time.