Torcello Island isn’t for everyone when planning things to do in Venice. But if you want a peaceful, relaxed change of pace during your trip to Venice, Torcello is a must-see that is steeped in Venetian history.
Torcello, like Burano and Murano Islands, is accessed via water boat from the Burano. Located about 50 minutes from Venice, Torcello was once a thriving Italian community with a population of 200,000. In fact, it was livelier than Venice back in its heyday.
Over time (by the 12th Century), the island turned into swamp land and many of its historical buildings’ materials were recycled for use in Venice construction. Malaria devastated most of the island’s population due to its swampy conditions with survivors fleeing to nearby Venice. Indeed today Torcello Island has a population of just barely a dozen people.
After the vaporetto drops off tourists in Torcello, it is a 10-minute walk to the island’s sparse yet ancient attractions which so many have welcomed as a refreshing and relaxing jaunt away from the conversely manic Venice. While walking, sightseers will notice the beautiful poppies and vines along the canal. The bridge in Torcello is known as the Ponticello del Diavolo (the Devil’s Little Bridge).
Soon touring pedestrians will approach the rapturous and green gardens of the Locanda Cipriani Hotel and Restaurant which is owned by the same family that owns Harry’s Bar in Venice. Incidentally, this is where Earnest Hemingway stayed when he wrote the book, Across the River and Through the Trees.
There are only five hotel rooms, however, so plan to reserve plenty ahead of time if this is your final stop in Torcello. The cost of the Locanda Cipriani is not exorbitant compared to hotels in Venice, but the restaurant leans on the pricey side. Some rooms have two balconies and most balconies have views of the two ancient churches on the island.
The Santa Fosca Church and the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta are right next to one another. How’s that for a low-maintenance tour? The Bascilla of Santa Maria Assunta is centuries old—the oldest building, in fact, in the Venice area as it was erected in the 4th Century. It does cost a few euros to enter and indoor photographs are not allowed.
Once inside, it is impossible to miss the glorious Madonna and Child over the altar contained in a field of gold, along with a frieze of the apostles. And The Last Judgement in mosaics is masterfully displayed within the Santa Maria Assunta. Here tourists can rent hand sets and listen to audiotapes that not only describe the Bascilla’s vast history, but the island’s history as well. The mosaics are phenomenal and they rival most in Venice.
Next door is the Santa Fosca Church which is the smaller of the two churches still located on Torcello Island. It was built in the 11th Century. The church contains St. Fosca’s remains under the altar along with St. Maura’s. St. Fosca was the virgin martyr of Ravenna and St. Maura was her nurse and companion in martyrdom.
The Santa Fosca has a wooden ceiling and the church, in and of itself, exudes striking simplicity. At times utilized for Italian weddings, the Santa Fosca Church is occasionally unavailable for touring. But take note that the sighting of an Italian bride is known to bring good luck!
Last and arguably least is the Torcello Museum. Archelogical finds from the area are displayed here as well as from powerful civilizations worldwide, so don’t let its small interior fool you. The museum comprises a medieval and modern section, as well as an archeological one. The Torcella Museum is situated between the Basilica and the Santa Fosca Church on a small parcel of lawn.
If one really uses their imagination, it is not difficult to see why Torcello was, long, long ago, the choice for Roman aristocracy holidays. When deciding where to stay in Venice, it is worth it to ponder Torcello. Now a serene haven, when visitors stay over they practically have the entire Torcello Island to themselves. What could be more intimate and relaxing?