Venice Day Trips ~ Why You Need To Go To Torcello

Have you been to Venice recently? Are you planning a trip to Venice? Maybe you’re just interested in the most unique city in the world? There is so much to see and do in Venice, and amongst all the options available to you are some trips to the outer islands.

Everyone hears about buzzing out to Murano and Burano, but fewer seem to make their way to Torcello. One of my Glam Italia tours this summer had several days in Venice, and Torcello was on the schedule. I was amazed at how many people tried to talk me out of taking people to this more remote island. I hadn’t been for a few years, but remembered it as being special, so thankfully I didn’t listen. In case you are hearing some of the same, I want to make sure you add Torcello to your list of must sees.

Scroll to the bottom of this post to get my free Top 10 Secret Places In Venice PDF!

The Story Of Torcello

Torcello was the first of the lagoon islands to be inhabited. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Veneti fled the mainland for the safety of the island, escaping the recurring barbarian invasions, especially around 452 when Attila The Hun wrecked his path of destruction through the area.

Over the next 200 years the relative safety of the island lead to a recurring influx of refugees including the Bishop of Altino. Torcello became the official seat of the bishop in 638. The island’s importance as a trading center grew and by the 10th century between 20,000 and 35,000 people lived there. 20,000 is the most commonly used number, but some archeologists are saying it was more likely around 3000.

The successive plagues of the middle ages devastated Venice’s population. The growing marshland around Torcello attracted malaria carrying mosquitos and traders stopped coming to the island. In 1689 the bishop’s seat moved to Murano, and by 1797 the population was down to 300. The current full time population is 10.

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Things To See On Torcello

Torcello is quite small, with the main tourist attractions all centered in one area. From the vaporetto it’s an easy 10 minute walk along the canal past restaurants and bars into the heart of the tiny town.

Most of the palazzi, the parishes etc are all gone, the materials having been recycled into other buildings around Venice, but there is still one medieval palazzo surviving.

The Devil’s Bridge

Ponte del Diavolo Torcello

As you walk in to town you pass the 15th century Devil’s Bridge/Ponte del Diavolo. There are several legends attached to the bridge. One says it was named because the devil built it in just one night. Another says the devil waits there to steal the souls of 7 innocent children as payment for reuniting 2 lovers, a Venetian girl and a murdered Austrian soldier (who may have died at the hands of her family)

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The Museum Of Torcello

In the heart of town the Museum of Torcello (1887) has both medieval and modern works of art as well as archeological finds. Around the museum you will see statues, pieces of columns, and stone reliefs, backing onto a lovely vineyard.

Torcello Italy

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Torcello Italy

Statues, vines and roses

Attila The Hun’s Chair

Also known as the Throne of Attila sits there too, but is actually thought to be the chair used by the bishops of Torcello, not the Hun.

Opposite the  museum there are 2 churches.

The Church of Santa Fosca

Torcello church

This Greek-style church was built in the 11th century to house the remains of 15 year old Fosca of Ravenna, martyred in the 3rd century, and who’s bones lie under the alter.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Santa Maria Assunta Torcello

The basilica stands next to Fosca, and on its own in my opinion, is worth making the trip to Torcello. Originally built in 639 but rebuilt in 1008 Santa Maria Assunta is home to 11th and 12th century Byzantine mosaics that are just breathtaking. Newly restored and just ethereal when the light hits them, these mosaics are sensational.

Santa Maria Assunta mosaics

The mosaics taking up most of the west wall at the entrance, are complex and majestic. The Crucifixion is at the top, above the high energy Harrowing of Hell, which in turn sits above the Last Judgement.

The series of The Damned, to the right of the doorway is quite fascinating all by itself. The bottom panel to the right of the door shows what happens to the envious, with worms coming out of the eye sockets of skulls. It must have been quite terrifying to people who couldn’t read, only knew life here in this place, and got all their information from the church.

Santa Maria Assunta mosaics

At the opposite end of the church the main apse features the huge and famously beautiful mosaic of the standing Virgin Hodegetria alone against the gold background, above a register of saints. She really is majestic, and completely mesmerizing. I could sit there looking at her for hours.

Torcello mosaics

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Torcello Italy

Wandering around Torcello

Torcello Venice

Vines, roses and blue kies on Torcello

How To Get There

Torcello is only a few minutes from Burano by vaporetto.

From Venice you can get the 12 Vaporetto at Fondamenta Nove. The 12 will take you to Murano, Torcello and Burano.

Bonus Information

I have made a free downloadable PDF with my Top 10 Secret Places in Venice. This has my favorite restaurants, places to go and things to do in Venice, all of which are super special and are far from the crazy crowds!

You can get your copy HERE

Traveling To Venice ~ The Lagoon Islands

If you have a few days in Venice 

take the time to explore the northern lagoon islands for a completely different Venetian experience.

Venice-Lagoon-islands-Murano
Murano via charmingitaly.com

“That a silk robed, clove scented princess named Venice could be sprung from a swamp was a mad fancy…”
~ Marlena di Blasi


Start with a trip to the glass blowing island of Murano.
Don’t take a “free” boat trip from the city center – these are paid for by the glass factories and you will be under significant pressure to buy glass. Also this is often a one way free ticket so you may have to find your own way home.
Instead take a vaporetto across, bypass the Colonna and Faro stops, and get off at either Museo or Venier.

Murano has been the home of Venetian glass blowing since1291. when the wooden buildings of central Venice were considered to be at too great of a fire risk so the furnaces were moved across the water. The population of 5000 swells by day with glass factory workers coming over from the mainland. In a centuries old tradition apprentices learn flamework, twisting and blowing from master craftsmen. 

Glass-Blowing-Demonstartion-Murano-Italy
Take in a glass blowing demonstration in Murano
image courtesy of missglamdan.com

Take a factory tour and watch a glass blowing demonstration and find out more about the history of Venetian glass at the Museo dell’ Arte Vetraria.

Make sure you allow yourself time to walk around Murano’s town center and get a feel for this wonderful place. Explore it’s canal system (including it’s own Grand Canal), the floating market, and the mosaic floor of the 12th century Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato. Another must see is the parish church San Pietro Martire with its two beautiful Giovanni Bellini paintings.

Murano is lovely to stroll around. If you are buying glass avoid the cheapie tourist glass – it’s unlikely to have been made here. Choose a reputable showroom and get the real thing.

Burano

From Murano take a vaporetto to Burano, the lace island.

Venice-Lagoon-Islands-Burano
Beautiful Burano
image courtesy of www.trekearth.com

For centuries Burano has thrived as a fishing community. While the men would be out at sea fishing their women would stay home making lace. The men would paint their house bright shades of blue or red or gold so that they could spot their home from the sea when they were fishing. Consequently the island is a riot of color with canals full of fishing boats and nets.

Burano-Venice-Homes
Burano
image courtesy of www.gnixus.wordpress.com

Lace making started here in the 15th century. The Burano-point and the Venetian-point evolved and the lace grew in demand all over Europe. A lace school was established in 1870 to keep the lace making skills passing on to younger generations. It still exists, you can go there to see lace being made, and it also houses the lace museum.

Burano is conntected to the smaller neighboring island of Mazzorbo by a bridge. Its lovely to stroll around, and from the  bridge you have a wonderful view of Venice.

A word to the wise: Burano lace is very expensive. You can find it in the more expensive stores on the island. The endless stalls and vendors on the streets selling cheap lace import it all from China, so it’s not legit.


Torcello


Torcello-Venice-Lagoon-Islands
Torcello, the ancient mother of Venice
image courtesy of www.locandacipriani.com

“Across the marshes (…) and with their reeds bent by the heavy north wind, he saw the squared tower of the church at                                                Torcello and the high campanile of Burano beyond it. “
                                   (Ernest Hemingway “Across the River and into the Trees”)



Quiet, sparcely populated Torcello is Venice’s oldest continously populated region, was Venice’s earliest settlement, settled in the 5th century and at one point in the 1300s housing a population of more than  20 000. 

In the 1200s the lagoon around Torcello slowly became a swamp, attracting malaria carrying mosquitos. As the Rialto area developed Torcello’s inhabitants fled to Venice leaving behind an 11th century church, a great basilica, palaces and houses that decayed, and canals that silted up. Today there is only one muddy canal running from the pontile to the piazza.

The Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta was first built in 638 and is famous for it’s remarkable mosaics which date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. 

Mosaic-Of-Mary-In-The- Apse-of-Basilica-Santa-Maria-Assunta-Torcello
The spectacular mosaic of Mary in the apse of Basilica Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello

The superbly detailed Last Judgement on the back wall is well worth visiting. (Make sure you check out the devils pushing the damned into hell.) 

Basilica-Santa-Maria-Assunta-Torcello-Mosiacs-Last-Judgement

While you are there go next door to the 11th century Byzantine church Santa Fosca, and also go sit in the (strangely comfortable) “Attila’s Throne” concrete chair in the piazza. Legend dates it to the 5th century leader of the Huns, and it is said to be good luck to sit in it.

Venice-Torcello-Attila's-Throne
Attila’s Throne, Torcello.

Check out my other travel posts about Venice here
Read aboout the Dorsoduro here
Read about Ca’ d’ Oro here


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