When planning our winter trip to Venice, we imagined ourselves in Piazza San Marco or walking through its channels. We also planned to visit the home of glass, Murano, and the Instagram-friendly town of Burano. But it was not until we read in depth our travel guide that we discovered an island that we couldn’t miss: Torcello. Its history and its loneliness create a magic environment that we will try to share with you in this post.
We left the touristy town of Murano and got in a vaporetto towards another island in the Venetian lagoon, Torcello. We were willing to climb the bell tower of its Church of Santa Maria Assunta. When we arrived in Torcello, almost nobody was there. A big contrast with the crowds that you can always find in the city of Venice. We reached the vaporetto station and started walking by the channel, in a rural environment of quietness and relax. After some minutes walking we arrived at the impressive church.
Although on today’s date Torcello is sparsely populated, it was once the first settlement in the Venetian lagoon. After the fall of the Roman Empire, some people left terra firme and took refuge in Torcello (452). It was then when Torcello gained importance as the parent island from which the rest of the Venetian lagoon was populated. In fact, the church was once a cathedral with a bishop. Its harbour and trade grew thanks to the salt mines and the links with Constantinople (which can be appreciated today in the art inside the church).
But as from the 14th century, the swamp area of the lagoon around Torcello increased and navigation became really difficult. This environment brought malaria and thus people moved to Murano, Burano or Venice itself. Nowadays, it seems that only a dozen of people live in the island.
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta is a paradise for art lovers. A visit to the church makes it worth any trip to Torcello. An audioguide in several languages is offered, so you only have to listen and enjoy the main nave of the basilica. Each item has a meaning. The church is a notable example of the Venetian-Byzantine architecture and it is mainly famous for its mosaics. The Virgin mosaic in the main apse is amazing, but we specially loved the Last Judgement one, placed over the door of the church to remind worshippers of their destiny each time they left the temple.
In the square outside the basilica, you can find the “Trono di Attila”, a white stone seat that was used by the bishop.
And, lastly, the bell tower. Climbing the bell tower of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta is one of the best experiences you can have in the Venetian lagoon. From the top of the bell tower, you can spot a great part of the lagoon, including Burano and Venice itself.
We will always remember the views that we enjoyed on that cold winter day. We took a good number of photos from up there. And, as you can see in the picture below, Torcello is placed just in front of Burano, so if you ever visit that colourful island, don’t hesitate to also reach Torcello. Usually jewels are found far from the crowds.