Founded in the 5th century by the inhabitants of the Roman city of Altino, who settle there fleeing from the troops of Attila the Hun, Torcello is even older than Venice and was a very important island in ancient times, once having a population of around 20000 people. The island turned into largely swampland in the 12th century, then malaria came and the much of the population either died or left to other islands. Buildings were plundered for building material and even if today little remains of its once splendid palaces, churches, and monasteries and only 20 residents live here , Torcello worth a visit for a little escape from the crowed Venice and to enjoy its wonderful quiet.
Torcello is easily accessible from Burano in 5 minutes with the ACTV waterbus (line 9). When you arrive at the dock, follow the long avenue along the canal. Here you can find all the information to get to the lagoon islands from Camping Ca’ Savio.
First you will find the recently renovated Ponte del Diavolo (“Devil’s Bridge”) dating back to the 15th century. There are several legends related to this bridge without any rail. One states that it takes its name from having been built by the devil in a single night. Another, that the devil waits here to claim the souls of seven innocent children; payment for reuniting two young lovers (a Venetian girl and an Austrian soldier, murdered by the girl’s family to keep them apart).
Continue down the canal-side path, past several restaurants and vendors stalls until you reach the the square of the town and the main attractions of the island: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Church of Santa Fosca and the Museo of Torcello.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was built in 639 and has a tall 11th-century bell tower that dominates the skyline. It contains beautiful Byzantine mosaics from the 11th and 12th century, you cannot compare for the size to the mosaics in St. Mark’s Basilica, but you can admire them surrounded by the quiet of Torcello. In the churchyard you can see the ruins of the original 7th century baptistery, instead the courtyard area outside the cathedral hosts a big throne made of stone called “Il Trono di Attila”, or Attila’s Throne, erroneously attributed to the famous leader of the Huns, but probably belonged to the Bishop of Torcello.
Next to the basilica is the 11th century Church of Santa Fosca surrounded by a 5-sided portico in the form of a Greek cross. The church was built to hold the remains of St. Fosca of Ravenna, martyred in the 3rd century, whose body lies beneath the altar.
On the left side of the square is located the Palazzo del Consiglio, built in Gothic style as the seat of government of the island. Today it hosts the Museum of Torcello, which contains works of art and archaeological finds from the surrounding region coming from the Late Latin, Byzantine and Medieval ages.
Torcello is not one of the most famous and visited island of the Ventian lagoon, but it is a place to consider if you are looking for a cultural trip, far from the tourist paths.