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Torcello (part one)

Torcello

So the three highlights of my December trip to Venice were the Joy Singers concert in the church of Santo Stefano, my daytrip to Padua to see the Giotto frescoes, and the day I spent on Torcello. And I can’t believe I haven’t written about Torcello yet! It’s mainly because I took so many photos that day and it’s taken me a while to go through them and also because I just didn’t know where to start, it was such a wonderful day with my best church visit ever.

It’s easy to get there from Venice. Go to the vaporetto stop on Fondamenta Nuove in Cannaregio and catch boat LN (Laguna Nord) which is the express boat to Burano. There you change boats to line T (for Torcello). The whole trip takes about 45 minutes to an hour and it’s a fun ride. You’ll pass San Michele, the cemetery island, with its beautiful Renaissance church, cruise past Murano and then by a number of romantic and mysterious abandoned lagoon islands with ruins on them. You can enjoy the crazy colors of Burano either before or after the trip to Torcello.

But why go to Torcello? Lots of reasons (and it’s going to take many blog posts to share them all) but in the words of writer Henry James, go to Torcello because enchantment lurks there. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

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Here’s a brief history of Torcello paraphrased from the multi-language historical marker on the island. I took a photo of the marker because in the background, behind the words, there’s an image of the Madonna and Child who reside in mosaic above the altar of Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello’s cathedral. The mosaics in that church are one of the many unforgettable sights on this island.

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Archeological excavations done in the 1960’s found signs of life on Torcello since Roman times, with artifacts from a fishing colony and evidence of glass-making. But it was beginning in the 5th century when a huge influx of people moved into the lagoon, fleeing Attila the Hun and other barbarians wreaking havoc on their cities on the mainland.

Within a few centuries, Torcello was the most prosperous of all the lagoon colonies. At its height, it had 50,000 citizens and was a Mediterranean trading port of prime importance, with metalworks, glass making, and a wool industry. Torcello had its own government and nobility, and the island was the seat of the bishop from 638 and was also an important monastic community. Even as late as the 15th century, Torcello still had 16 monasteries and numerous churches forming 12 parishes.

The island’s decline began in the 14th century and was caused by three key factors: its canals silted up, impacting trade and the economy; Venice then became the prime trading port in the lagoon; and a lingering malaria epidemic devastated the population of Torcello.

Only a few reminders of Torcello's glorious past remain: two churches and a few medieval palaces including the two that now house a museum.


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Well, I would love to know more about ALL those demolished churches! Actually, I’m sure I’ve seen remnants of them in Venice. In “The World of Venice, Jan Morris writes that any citizen of Torcello who survived the malaria epidemic moved to Venice and that…

“Presently the island was so deserted and disused that the Venetian builders, when they were short of materials, used to come to Torcello and load the remains of palaces into their barges, scrabbling among the rubble for the right size of staircase or a suitably sculptured cornice.

Through the centuries, poor Torcello rotted, crumbling and subsiding and declining into marshland again…by the middle of the 19th century, a visit to Torcello was, for every romantic visitor, a positive ecstasy of melancholia.”

Maybe I’m not a romantic visitor but Torcello doesn’t make me melancholy at all. It’s too beautiful and peaceful and interesting. Civilizations rise and fall and that’s just the way it is and if we’re lucky, they leave some remnants behind, and what’s left to see on Torcello is truly magnificent. Especially those churches...

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So today, Torcello has a little grassy piazza where you can find the churches, a few restaurants, a famous five-star inn, and the museum. The rest of the island is farmland with beautiful green fields of artichokes, grape vines, goats and whatnot.You can see how green it is in the aerial view postcard above.

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“A trip to Burano and Torcello will take up a whole day if you have not a motorboat to yourself, but a whole day spent in the lagoon will allow you to enjoy the infinite, varied, and incomparable beauty of the lagoon landscape, and give you the pleasure of several hours of complete freedom.”

Guilio Lorenzetti, Venice and Its Lagoon

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More to come...

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Comments (15)

Oh my! Such a beautifully eerie and breathtaking place - how do you find these sites? Love the quote by Henry James and your photos and text only enhance the pleasure of reading this blog. You go girl! Annie, I view this as your blog as an Intro 101 to the Hidden Beauty of Venice - mahalo!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, I have been waiting for your entries on Torcello and was very excited to see this wonderful post this morning. You took some really amazing photos that captured the island so beautifully. There was something about Torcello that touched me. The answer is in your description. "It's peaceful, beautiful, interesting and .... truly magnificent."

Thank you for writing this post and I look forward to your next entry. Have a great day today!

LB:

Thanks for this post! This is one of the few reasons I need to go back to Venice. I went to Burano, but by the time I finished wandering around there, it seemed to late to go to Torcello, so I never did! :(

Great post, Annie! I didn't go to Torcello when we were in Venice because I was voted down.
Next time, I just won't take a vote!
Looking forward with anticipation to part 2.

I love the picture with the reflection of the trees on the water! Very nice!

Thanks for your comments everyone. I hope that those of you who haven't been to Torcello are able to get there someday.

Kathy, it really touched me too. I like Burano and Murano, but Torcello is my favorite of the islands, for sure.

Wow, Annie! Great post!Torcello is on my(never-ending) list now!I love your photos!

Anne:

Annie, you have such an amazing ability to paint the most beautiful pictures of Venice with your words. Must be your love of the place shining through. And you capture unique corners and angles and shadows with your camera - beautiful photos. I am sighing with longing to visit Torcello! I didn't make it last October...I'm not usually a penny pincher on trips, but I was SO broke on that trip, it was pathetic. I really couldn't afford the trip to begin with but needed to get away and recharge...and then the leather jacket did me in! It was all worth it though. :)

Marie:

What a pleasure to find your entry on Torcello. I love the cathedral, but my very favorite church in the lagoon is the little Greek plan Santa Fosca, next door. We just returned from Italy and a visit to Torcello, but we weren't able to go inside Santa Fosca because a wedding was being held. We wandered around until the wedding was over and the entire party had decamped to the restaurant down the way, but after numerous inquiries were told that the church wouldn't reopen till the next day. I was so disappointed, pointing out to the ticket people that I'd waited 2 years to get back in. The only thing that made it easier to bear was that the church was dressed for the wedding, so wouldn't have had the emptiness and serenity that I love about it, anyway.
I look forward to your next post on Torcello. Did you visit the Santa Fosca church? Did you like it?

Great post. I also have never been to Torcello. It looks like such a unique place, so different than every other place in Italy. I was surprised by all of the farmland. Loved your photos.

sandrac:

Annie, I had no idea that Torcello was so fascinating.

I love James' suggestion that one should visit Torcello because "enchantment lurks there!"

Anne, thanks so much for your kind comments! I hope that you are able to return to Italy soon.

Marie, I have visited Santa Fosca (and loved it) but the same thing happened to me last year - there was a wedding going on and I wasn't able to go inside. I did go in the cathedral though. What a wonderful place to get married!

Girasoli, you'd love Torcello. The tower is one that you actually climb (no elevator) and the views are incredible.

Sandra, it really is an enchanting island.

Yay, I'm thrilled to see this entry! Torcello is truly beautiful and fascinating. And so green!

I almost made it to Torcello last year but a couple of days of strikes left me without time to make the boat trip to San Michele and Torcello. Can't wait to return to Venice!

Maria, isn't it amazing how green it is? Even in December, it was very green.

I've been in Venice for vaporetto strikes several times. I like having a few hours without them and experiencing quieter canals. Sorry the strikes kept you from going to Torcello though.

How cool to read your series on Torcello - it really looks and sounds like a magical place.

So when are you leading a guided tour of Venice??????

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 12, 2009 1:33 PM.

The previous post in this blog was The Bellini altarpiece in San Zaccaria.

The next post in this blog is When you get there (Torcello).

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