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Torcello - the Deserted Venetian Island

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Bringing supplies to the local restaurants. No cars or trucks - just boats.

Carol walks along the canal on this deserted island

The tiny island of Torcello has only eight full-time residents but is often busy with sightseers in summer. This island is north of the city of Venice in the Venetian Lagoon and next door to its more famous neighbor, Burano. It was first settled in the year 452 and has been referred to as the parent island from which Venice was populated. It is estimated that at one time it had 10,000 or even 20,000 residents with a cathedral and bishops before St Mark's Basilica was built. Back in this time, it was a much more powerful trading center than Venice.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

In 1630, the Italian plague killed a third of Venice's 150,000 citizens. A further serious issue for Torcello specifically was that the swamp area of the lagoon around the island increased by the 14th century, partly because of the lowering of the land level. Navigation was impossible before long and traders ceased calling at the island. The growing swamps also seriously aggravated malaria. As a result, by the late 14th century, a substantial number of people left the island for Murano, Burano or Venice.

Inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Today's main attraction is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, founded in 639. It has much 11th and 12th century Byzantine work, including a vivid version of the Last Judgement installed during the reconstruction in 1008 (fifty years before St. Mark's Basilica was constructed. There also is a number of very nice restaurants that cater to the day-trippers from the near-by islands.

The Devil's Bridge on Torcello

Also found here is a unique bridge over the canal without any railings. It's called the "Devil's Bridge" because at one time there was a Monastery on one side and a Nunnery on the other side. Apparently, there would occasionally be a "rendezvous" on the bridge, which of course was a no-no. Maybe they claimed "the Devil made me do it" and hence the name "Devil's Bridge".

Ernest Hemingway also spent some time there in 1948, writing parts of Across the River and Into the Trees, which contains representations of Torcello and its environs.

(click to enlarge pictures)

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