Welcome to Torcello Island! Once considered the cradle of Venetian civilization, this beautiful and historic island in the Venetian Lagoon is a paradise for tourists seeking a unique adventure.
Table of Contents:
- Things to See on Torcello
- What is Torcello Famous For?
- Is it Worth Visiting Torcello?
- Do People Live on Torcello?
- How Do I Get to Torcello?
- When Was Torcello Founded?
- Can You Stay in Torcello?
Despite its small size – just two square miles – Torcello is a collection of small islands at the northern end of the lagoon that have much to offer, from exquisite Byzantine mosaics to ancient churches. Travelers looking for an intimate glance at Venice’s past will find it in Torcello through its array of cultural attractions and stunning vistas that are sure to take your breath away.
Whether you explore on foot along cobblestone paths or take one of several boat tours available throughout the day, Torcello is one destination not to be missed during your time in Italy.
Venice’s Island Guides:
Things to See on Torcello
Whether you’re looking for an intimate glimpse into Venice’s past or simply want to relax and explore the stunning beauty of nature, Torcello doesn’t disappoint.
Let’s take a look at the best things to do on Torcello.
Visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is one of the most iconic landmarks on Torcello. Constructed in the 7th-century church, it is considered one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the Venetian lagoon and is a notable example of Byzantine architecture.
The cathedral has a basilica-style layout, with a nave and two aisles. While largely devoid of decorations, the cathedral features a large wall covered in exquisite mosaics on a gold background.
The mosaics in the cathedral are considered to be some of the most important surviving examples of Byzantine art in Italy.
The most famous of these is the “Last Judgment” mosaic, which is located in the apse and depicts the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment of the souls. The mosaic is believed to date back to the 12th century and is notable for its intricate details and vivid colors.
The church also has several frescoes that date back to the 14th century and several architectural elements, such as a soaring campanile (bell tower) that you can climb for a panoramic view of the lagoon. Note that this bell tower is shared with the Chuch of Santa Fosca and is referenced below.
Just beware that some people frown upon taking photos within the church. Be respectful of their wishes. You can, however, take photos of the exterior and from the top of the bell tower.
View the Chiesa di Santa Fosca
Right next to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is another small, but equally beautiful and important structure: the Church of Santa Fosca.
Church of Santa Fosca is considered one of the most well-preserved examples of Romanesque architecture in the area in the Venetian Lagoon.
While at first glance, the church is simple and unadorned, the details in the architecture are what stand out. The chevron brickwork on the pathways around the church, the ancient wooden vaulted ceiling, and a Greek cross floor plan constructed from marble. It’s really beautiful to absorb.
The interior of the church features frescoes that date back to the 11th and 13th centuries, which depict scenes from the life of Christ, various saints, and scenes from the Bible. They are considered to be some of the most important surviving examples of medieval art in Venice.
One of the most notable features of the Church of Santa Fosca is the beautiful campanile shared with the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. This tower was built in the 12th century and is considered one of the oldest standing bell towers in the lagoon. The tower is decorated with some intricate carvings and sculptures and offers a stunning view of the surrounding area.
While not on display, the church also houses several relics, including some ancient manuscripts and books, which are considered to be of great historical and cultural value.
Learn the History of Torcello in Museo Provinciale di Torcello
Located directly across from the Cathedral of Santa Maria, this small museum offers a short history of Torcello through archaeological finds and medieval artifacts.
The whole museum, split between two buildings, can be viewed in less than half an hour.
The first building, Palazzo dell’Archivio, includes archaeological items found across mainland Venice, the marshy islands near Torcello, and from a shipwreck off the island’s coast.
The second building, Palazzo del Consiglio, is the more interesting of the two and features medieval artifacts acquired from a handful of churches and convents that once flourished on Torcello. It’s a really interesting walk through history and helps you envision what the island once was in its heyday.
Dine or Stay at Locanda Cipriani
Locanda Cipriani remains one of the most respected restaurants and hotels in the Venetian Lagoon with its impressive history of hosting luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway and royals like Princess Diana.
Stepping into the traditional establishment is like stepping back in time – its interiors and atmosphere are reminiscent of an old-world trattoria, radiating a comforting warmth that welcomes you with open arms.
If you go during the summer, I highly recommend dining in the garden or grabbing a gelato while exploring the island.
Visit The Devil’s Bridge
Owing much of its popularity to the ominous name, Ponte del Diavolo, this small bridge spans a narrow canal and is believed to be built by the devil himself, according to a popular legend.
Legend states that the residents of Torcello, who had long been troubled by the lack of a bridge across the canal, made a deal with the devil to build one in exchange for the soul of the first person to cross it. However, they outwitted the devil by sending a pig across first, thus cheating the devil out of a human soul.
Contrary to its name, the Ponte del Diavolo is far less intimidating in person. It’s made of red and white brick and has a simple, arched design. It is unclear when the bridge was built, but it is likely to date back to the medieval period. The bridge is not open to the public but can be seen from the nearby paths.
The Devil’s Bridge is a popular tourist attraction known for its unique legend and picturesque setting. It’s a small piece of the island’s history and culture, and a fun stop for those interested in local legends and myths.
Take a Tour of the Lagoon on by Boat
Our initial trip to Torcello was a guided tour by private boat that brought us through the lagoon where we visited Murano, Burano, Mazzorbo, and San Francesco del Deserto.
While it was a little pricy, it was one of those special occasions that made it worthwhile. Our guide brought us from the harbor to the tower outside of the Church of Santa Fosca and provided facts about the island and the wildlife in the wetlands and marshlands nearby.
The peak of the experience was a visit to an exclusive winery that has been producing wine since the 14th century.
Try Traditional Venetian Food
Known for its seafood, Torcello’s cuisine is heavily influenced by its location in the Venetian Lagoon. Some popular dishes from Torcello include:
- Sarde in Saor: A dish of fried sardines that are marinated in a sweet and sour sauce made with onions, raisins, and vinegar.
- Risotto al Nero di Seppia: A risotto made with cuttlefish ink, which gives the dish its black color, along with seafood such as shrimp or squid.
- Polenta e granseola: A dish of polenta served with a crab sauce.
- Bigoli in salsa: Bigoli is a type of thick spaghetti-like pasta, which is typically served with a sauce made from anchovies, onions, and olive oil.
- Bacalà mantecato: A salt cod dish whipped with olive oil, garlic, and milk.
- Cicchetti: A type of Venetian tapas typically served in bars, Cicchetti includes small plates of seafood, meats, and cheeses.
- Tiramisù: A dessert made of ladyfingers, mascarpone, cocoa, and espresso.
Torcello’s traditional cuisine is known for its simplicity and focus on fresh ingredients and bold flavors. It’s a great opportunity to taste the local delicacies and seafood while visiting the island.
To learn more about traditional food from the lagoon, see our picks for The Best Venetian Cuisine and our recommendations on where to try them.
What is Torcello Famous For?
Torcello is best known for its magnificent Byzantine mosaics, which adorn the interior walls of many of the island’s churches. They’ve been there since Roman times and are a fantastic option when visiting Torcello.
Although they’re few and far between, Torcello is home to various restaurants that offer traditional Venetian cuisine and some unique local specialties.
Lastly, the island is known for its views of the Venetian Lagoon and scenic walking paths around the marshy islands.
Is it Worth Visiting Torcello?
Torcello is worth visiting for those interested in art, history, and culture. The island has a rich history dating back to Roman times, and it was one of the first settlements in the area, an important center of trade and culture during the Middle Ages.
Torcello is home to several historic buildings, including the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which dates back to the 7th century, and the Church of Santa Fosca, which dates back to the 11th century. These churches are considered some of the most important and well-preserved examples of Byzantine and Romanesque architecture in the area. They are adorned with several important frescoes and mosaics.
Additionally, the island is great for enjoying a tranquil atmosphere and picturesque setting, surrounded by nature. The lagoon is a beautiful place to stroll around or take a boat ride.
However, it’s worth noting that Torcello is not heavily populated and not as touristy as Murano, Burano, and Venice, which means that it’s not as developed in terms of accommodation and transportation.
Do People Live on Torcello?
Technically, people do live on Torcello Island, but compared to its height, Torcello is largely uninhabited. As of 2018, only 12 people live on the island, including the parish priest.
Torcello was a thriving city and an important trade center during the Venetian Republic. In the 10th century, an estimated 20,000 people lived on the island, but its population slowly decreased as Venice, Murano, and Burano rose to prominence.
While only a few people live on Torcello, you can still explore the island and see what made it attractive during its peak.
If you’re interested in ancient churches and Byzantine mosaics, you’ll find that Torcello is charming, relaxing, and perfect for leisurely strolls.
Why Was Torcello Abandoned?
Torcello was once a thriving center of commerce. However, over time its population began to decline due to several factors, including disease, famine, flooding, lack of jobs, lack of building material, and barbarian invasions. Eventually, by the early 16th century, most of Torcello’s inhabitants had left the island in search of better opportunities.
How Do I Get to Torcello?
If you’re departing from Venice, the easiest way of getting to Torcello is by taking the vaporetto (water bus) from Fondamente Nove in Castello. The water bus is easy to use and much cheaper than a private boat from Venice to Torcello.
Except for the holidays, the vaporetto lines are available daily from 6 am to 10:30 pm. If you want to experience multiple islands, we recommend getting the 24-hour ticket for €24. Alternatively, why not go for the cheaper 12-hour option at only €18 and make your adventure budget-friendly?
To get to Torcello, take the vaporetto from Venice’s Fondamente Nove stop near Ponte dei Medicanti. You’ll want to take line 12. This line will drop you off at the Torcello ferry terminal at the island’s southwest end.
If you also plan to visit Murano, Mazzorbo, and Burano, line 12 stops at each island. We recommend exploring them as you can do all three plus Torcello in one full day.
The trip takes around 40 minutes to get from Venice to Torcello.
When Was Torcello Founded?
Torcello is believed to have been founded by refugees fleeing the barbarian invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries AD. It was first mentioned in historical records in 726 AD, and for centuries it was one of the most important cities in the Venetian lagoon.
The island reached its peak between the 9th-12th centuries, but by the end of the 14th century, its population had drastically declined and is now sparsely populated.
Torcello is still home to several important historical monuments and churches, such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Basilica di Santa Fosca. These sites are well-preserved and offer tourists a glimpse into the island’s past.
Can You Stay in Torcello?
Yes, it is possible to stay on Torcello. There are a few options for lodging, including bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, and small hotels. These accommodations are typically small, family-run establishments that provide a unique and authentic experience.
However, it’s worth noting that Torcello is not heavily populated, so accommodations are limited and could be fully booked during peak tourist season. It’s recommended to book in well in advance, especially during the summer months.
Perhaps more than any other island in the lagoon, Torcello is a secluded and peaceful destination. The island is an excellent place for those looking for a quiet and tranquil getaway surrounded by nature.
Torcello may not be as famous as its nearby island neighbors, but it’s definitely worth a visit. From incredible views to mouthwatering food, there’s a little bit of everything on Torcello. And the best part is that it’s not nearly as crowded as Venice so you can get a sense of what life was like centuries ago without bumping into people.
Have you been to Torcello? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
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