Posted by Avital Pinnick on November 23, 2016
Torcello is sometimes referred to as Venice 1.0. It was founded long before Venice, in the 5th century, and was the main population center of the lagoon until malaria drove the inhabitants to the area around the Rialto bridge in the 12th century. Its current population is said to be 10 (or possibly as high as 75), including the parish priest. Before 2013, to get to Torcello you had to take the vaporetto (waterbus) to Burano and catch another vaporetto to Torcello, but the #12 route has been expanded so that it is now possible to go directly from the Fondamente Nove. The trip takes 45 minutes and you have to check the schedule because the earliest and latest #12 boats do not include Torcello.
The Ponte del Diavolo (“Devil’s Bridge”) has a romantic legend, but the more prosaic explanation is that its name is a corruption of a local family name, “Diavoli”. The bridge was built in the 15th century and restored in 2008. Although it appears to lead to a dead end (private gate) at the end of a lane, you can turn left and walk towards the cathedral on a footpath beside a canal that runs parallel to the canal beside the brick-paved path.
The main site on Torcello is the Cathedral of S. Maria Assunta (founded in 639), photographed below from a muddy footpath, which ends at a small bridge. If you look at the banks of the canal, you’ll notice wooden pilings driven into the ground. These are the same kind of pilings that support the enormous palazzi of Venice. The anaerobic atmosphere of the mud keeps the wood (mostly alder and larch) from rotting and a solid layer of Ice Age-buried soil (“caranto”) may be keeping Venice from sinking.
Carved arch on the outside of the apse of the cathedral.
The cathedral is famous for its spectacular 12th century mosaics, in particular, the Last Judgement depicted on the front wall. The river of red flames flows from the Throne of Judgement to the souls of the damned, who are tortured by angels. (Photography is not permitted in the church, but several people were taking photos with cellphones and tablets; the guards didn’t seem to mind.)
Photo: Byzantine apse mosaic with the Theotokos and saints (probably apostles, but I’d have to check the Greek to make sure).
Photo below: View from the bottom of the campanile. If you climb to the top, you will see how sparsely populated Torcello has become. Many structures have vanished entirely because the stones were reused in Venice. Admission to the tower is separate from admission to the cathedral. The ascent is by well-lit ramps, so it’s not a difficult climb.