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The island of Torcello is located in Venice's Lagoon, beyond Mazzorbo and Burano. Torcello island is sparsely populated with a population less than 30, with some of them living in farm-houses. On Torcello island is active fishing and farming even if the main resource is tourism. The origins of Torcello island are more ancient than those of Venice. Escaping from the barbarian hordes, many inhabitants from Altino found refuge in this far corner of the lagoon. They came from the Altino's area called Turris as there was a tower located nearby, for this reason they called Turricellum their new country. Since 638 the bishop Paolo from Altino moved his seat to Torcello island, bringing the relics and the bodies of the saints. The importance of Torcello island grew and it became a famous trade center which included wool production. On Torcello island were built many churches and convents; its population grown to 20,000 inhabitants.

Torcello's view

Torcello was sorrounded by many other islands, the most celebrated were Ammiana and Costanziaca, which have actually disappeared. The importance of the island reduced when the doge's seat moved to "Metamaucus" first, and to "Rivoaltus" later (813); but it remained an important location until the fourteenth century. At that time, as both Piave and Sile rivers left their natural river-beds to flow into the lagoon, resulting in a progressive sanding all around Torcello island. As a result there was a drastic reduction of trade and finally malaria hit the island. This disease forced the population to abandon Torcello island and to move to Venice, leaving the island run wild. Torcello island's churches and palaces were plundered. The building materials were re-used to build elsewhere. Torcello island's area was reclaimed during the nineteenth century, but unfortunately very little of its ancient splendor remained.

Torcello's wharf

Torcello island is easily reachable from Burano. Actv offers during the day a regular link to the island by public waterbus service (vaporetto, line 9). From the Burano stop there are departures every 30 minutes and, crossing the "Canale dei Borgognoni" the vaporetto gets to Torcello island in approximately 5 minutes. Beyond the Actv stop you have to walk along a waterfront arriving to some shops and restaurants. Along the waterfront you can see the "Ponte del Diavolo" (Devil's Bridge), a rare example of a bridge without lateral supports (called "spallette"), that linked the inhabitated part of Torcello island with the cultivated one. Following and then crossing a bridge you get in the Torcello's church complex. From the stop it's an approximately 8-minute walk and you must remember this time if you don't want to miss the vaporetto and wait 30 minute for the next one.

Restaurants in Torcello island

Al Trono di Attila

Ristorante al Trono di Attila, Torcello, tel. +39 041 730094.
Locanda Cipriani, Torcello, tel. +39 041 730150.
Ostaria Ponte del Diavolo, Torcello, tel. +39 041 730401.
Ristorante Villa '600, Torcello, tel. +39 041 5272254.

Locanda Cipriani

On the right is the celebrated Locanda Cipriani that hosted many famous people, among them Queen Elizabeth II, Price Charles and Lady Diana, the soprano Maria Callas, Italy's President Sandro Pertini, the actor Charlie Chaplin, the novelist Ernest Hemingway (the list would be much longer). Hemingway stayed many times at the locanda since 1948. Here in Torcello island he loved to relax and from here he started his hunting-parties. In this property the American author wrote the novel "Across the River and Into the Trees".

Attila's Throne

Beyond the locanda are available some kiosks selling souvenirs and lace made in Burano. Then you get to the unpaved main square in Torcello island, covered with grass. From this place it is possible to see the last important buildings remaining today. First you see "Attila's Throne", a seat made in white marble probably used by Torcello's bishop or by the local tribune long time ago. There is no witness about the seat has been really used by the Huns' army leader, that plundered the Po Valley in 452. In the square is remarkable a nice well-curb as well.

Council Palace

In front and on the left side of the square is remarkable the Council Palace in gothic style (built during the fourteenth century and at that age seat of the local government), and the Archives' Palace. Both buildings constitute the Torcello island's Museum, an archaeologic collection of Latin, Byzantine and medieval ages, all its finds were discovered on the island. The Council Palace was bought in 1870 by the count Torelli that, after a 2-year restoration, gave it as a gift to the Province. In 1877 it was C.A. Levi that bought and restored the Archives' Palace. Finally it was possible to see in 1887 the "Museo dell'Estuario" (Estuary's Museum), named later "Museo di Torcello" and property of Venice's Province. On the stairs located in the Archives' Palace you can have a beautiful sight of the lagoon.

Santa Fosca Church

On the right side of Torcello square is the Santa Fosca Church, built between the eleventh and the twelfth century. Outside is remarkable a porch on five sides and inside it is possible to see the strict pentagonal apse. This small building is admirable for its proportioned dimensions and for the armony of the architectonic elements. Beyond this small but nice church is remarkable the rest of the Baptistery (circle shape, medieval age). During the high tide the sea water gets inside, reminding us that we are still in the lagoon.

Torcello Cathedral

Finally you get to Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral, (+39 041 730119, open daily 10,30am-6pm, ticket office is open till 5,30pm) built in 639 by the Ravenna's exarch, Isaacio. The admission is 3 euros. The building had restorations in 864 and 1008 but the present construction looks typical of the Veneto-Byzantine age. The church inside is solemn with a floor made by rich marble mosaics. Above the "Porta Maggiore" (Main Gate), is located the wonderful mosaic titled "Christ's Aphoteosis" and "Last Judgement", a real masterpiece attributed to Veneto-Byzantine school (twelfth century). On the apse is the mosaic "The Virgin and the Apostles".

Santa Maria Assunta Church

This cathedral represents the most ancient monumental building in Venice's Lagoon. Are remarkable some curious and huge shutters located outside that repair the windows on the side of the building. Paying an additional charge to the church's admittance it is possible to visit the bell tower (eleventh century), climbing a ramped stairway you get a really nice view of Torcello island.

The remarkable art of the mosaic was brought into Veneto region by the Romans during the early Christian age. But its best examples are still the mosaic floors of Aquileia, in Friuli region (4th cen.). The mosaic was brought much later in Torcello island and into some abbeys located in the lagoon, from the 6th cen.. The artists of mosaic that worked in Torcello island have been probably the same that created the fantastic mosaics of St. Mark's Basilica.

Islands nearby Torcello

In the nearby of Torcello island you can visit, but only with private meanings of transportation, some islands that in ancient times were remarkable but actually are completely abandoned. Among the most important are: S. Arian, Le Saline and La Cura. The first (called S. Adriano as well) had an important convent of nuns but it was abandoned for its unhealthy air. In 1565 a law of Venice Senate converted it in a charnel house. Actually the doors are walled to avoid the theft of bones. Le Saline was used in order to get salt until 1913, the last family that lived there left the island at the end of the 60's. La Cura was probably linked with S. Arian, in the nearby of Torcello, both islands formed a whole with the wonderful Costanziaca. The name "Costanziaca" maybe is in honour of the emperor Costante that ruled in Bisanzio after 641 a.d., or the name could come from a gate of the ancient city of Altino.

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