Visiting Torcello island can make you understand a lot about the origins of Venice. Despite being very small, Torcello has plenty of things to do and visit that talk about the ancient past of Venice.
You may decide to spend time here during a nice day trip from Venice or decide to join an organized boat tour: whatever choice you make, the little island of the Venice lagoon will truly surprise you.
Let's discover what to do and what to visit in the island of Torcello, starting with some hints on its great history.
The history of Torcello island, the inner heart of Venice
Today the population of Torcello counts 13 inhabitants. However, in the past this little island of the Northern part of the lagoon has been the cradle of the city of Venice.
Some historians have demonstrated that Torcello, in fact, was inhabited since the first century. However, due to some natural disasters, the local population left the island till the IX century. At that time, many people decided to come back from the mainland to protect themselves from the so-called barbaric invasions.
This has been the beginning of a new era.
The land has been reclaimed and there started to be a lively center for agriculture and technology.
The population grew a lot: in the X century it counted more than 3 thousand people! The island was rich and was, due its strategic position, even more important for trading than Venice itself.
At the beginning of the XV century, however, the increasing importance of Venice, the unhealthy air and the continual plagues (especially in the XIV and XVII centuries) caused a gradual decline of the island.
As a result of the unstoppable decline, the buildings fell into disrepair, or were dismantled to provide bricks and building material for the development of Venice.
In 1822, Patriarch John Ladislaus Pyrker noted the island's state of extreme decay, subjected to unhealthy air and widespread poverty. Inhabitants steadily declined during the XX century , and only about 20 people currently live on the island.
Even though only a few people live here, the island is one of the top attractions of the Venetian lagoon!
Let's find out why!
5 things to do in Torcello: let's explore this beautiful island of Venice lagoon
Torcello immediately offers its visitors an atmosphere of yesteryear.
Following the long avenue leading to the square and skirting the main canal, you will be slowly immersed in a landscape that seems to have remained from the period of the late Roman Empire, with a rhythm broken now and then by a colonial-style restaurant.
So, what's to do in Torcello?
1. Visit the famous Ponte del Diavolo (Devil's bridge)
This is one of the first attractions you will see once you arrive on the island.
The Devil's Bridge is so called because of a legend. In fact, it is said that it was built in a single night by the devil himself who wanted to win a bet.
Who knows, maybe it is the lack of parapets on the sides that made people think of a hasty construction of the bridge.
In any case, it is very scenic and makes for wonderful photos of the surroundings. Beyond the bridge is a very green area that is purely used for cultivation.
2. The Attila's throne
Next to the Basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta stands the so-called Attila's throne.
It is a stone sculpture that, according to legend, was commissioned directly by the powerful King of the Huns during one of his raids in Italy.
As you know, the Huns actually never reached Venetian lagoon because they stopped at Aquileia, in northeastern Italy.
However, the stone throne dates back to the V century, at the time of the first settlement on the island. It was used by the local governor during council meetings and when administering justice.
3. The Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Santa Fosca in Torcello
The Basilica and the Church of Santa Fosca represent the last remaining specimens of the ancient churches of Torcello.
The first is a majestic example of Byzantine art, erected in the VII centuries and enlarged in the XI century. What will impress you the most is the XIII century mosaic showing the Virgin in a golden background covering the central apse. This is one of the most precious mosaics you will find in Northern Italy. Inside the church there is also another beautiful mosaic: it shows the Last Judgement and it is simply amazing.
Inside the Basilica you could also have the opportunity to discover its Sacristy and its Crypt: they have been hidden for centuries so touring them would be pretty amazing.
The Church of Santa Fosca is also a circular building realized in the Venetian Byzantine architecture and stands out in the ancient city square next to the basilica and the remains of the ancient baptistery.
4. The Bell Tower of Torcello
It dates back to the IX century and is a great tower from which you can have a marvelous view of the Venetian lagoon.
It stands close to the Basilica, located in a green field. It's just amazing to go there and breathe in the fresh air coming from the lagoon.
5. The Museum of Torcello
The museum was opened at the end of the XIX century, as soon as the Veneto region was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.
It is hosted inside the Palazzo del Consiglio and it shows a great collection of artworks belonging not only to the ancient history of Torcello, but also to the whole lagoon.
You can wander through bronze statues, jewelry, vases, and all kinds of objects that tell of Venice's past.
The Museum of Torcello is definitely a remarkable stop for your day trip to the island!
Visiting Torcello island requires no more than a half day and you could decide to visit it by yourself (but please check the working hours of the monuments you want to visit) or you could also decide to join a group tour. They usually include the visit to the three main islands of the lagoon: first Murano and then Burano and Torcello.
It's definitely one of the most worth doing excursions you could do in the lagoon!