Torcello is the next island to the north from Burano and Mazzorbo in the Venetian lagoon. You could probably see it, as I did, in the same day as the other two islands as there’s not that much to see, just a canal, a handful of houses and an ancient cathedral containing some beautiful mosaics by the Ravenna school.
It’s hard to imagine now but Torcello was the locaton of the original Venetian settlement over 1,500 years ago and at its peak had a population of up to 30,000 people. However after the canals started to silt up, the populace had to move to Venice to find employment and escape malaria, even taking their buildings with them. Only around a dozen people actually live on the island permanently now.
First built in 7th century, the cathedral, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, is the oldest Byzantine-Romanesque structure in the lagoon. Although the outside isn’t very exciting, the glittering interior is supposed to be stunning.
Unfortunately it was closed due to Covid restrictions when I went so I didn’t actually experience the main reason for going to the island. I was still glad I came though as it was nice to have some solitude after several days in the frenetic city. The feeling was heightened by the lack of tourists, I think I only saw about five other people the whole time I was there.
For me the exterior of the adjoining Byzantine church, Chiesa di Santa Fosca, is more appealing to the eye. Apparently the campanile behind it (also temporarily closed) has a great view over the swampy landscape of the island (a “green mosquitoed, mossy fen” as one poem describes it).
There’s not much else to see, other than a few architectural relics from times past that decorate the area around the churches.
After less than an hour of walking around, I was ready to go home so I went to Taverna Tipica Veneziana www.tavernaveneziana.it near the vaporetto stop while I waited for my ferry.
Reflecting over a Negroni, I decided I would like to visit Torcello again one day. I wanted to see the mosaics of course but most especially to have lunch at Locanda Cipriani www.locandacipriani.com (yes, you’ve guessed it, temporarily closed). This highly recommended restaurant has an excellent rep thanks to Hemmingway and numerous other celebrities having eaten there. The original owner, Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar fame, gets a mention in Hemmingway’s novel Across the River and into the Trees.
My vaporetto arrived as sunset was falling and whisked me back to Venice in about forty minutes.
And that was the end of another lovely day out in the Venetian lagoon.
I did have time for one more island trip though. So it’s off to Murano next…