Torcello is one of the most popular islands to visit in the Venice lagoon yet it is still fairly peaceful. The main reason for visiting the island is to see the spectacular Byzantine mosaics in the seventh century Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell'Assunta. Much of the island is a nature reserve, accessible only on the walking paths.
Founded in the 5th century, Torcello is even older than Venice and was a very important island in ancient times, once having a population possibly around 20,000. Eventually malaria hit the island and much of the population either died or left. Buildings were plundered for building material so that little remains of its once splendid palaces, churches, and monasteries.
Mosaics in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell'Assunta
Torcello's cathedral was built in 639 and has a tall 11th century bell tower that dominates the skyline. Inside the cathedral are stunning Byzantine mosaics from the 11th - 13th centuries. One of the most impressive is the depiction of the Last Judgement. From the boat stop, the main path leads to the cathedral, less than a 10 minute walk. The cathedral is open daily from 10:00 - 17:30. Currently (2012), admission to the cathedral is 5 euro and an audio guide is available for two euro. There is an additional charge to climb up the bell tower but in 2012 it was closed for renovation.
Next to the cathedral is the 11th century Church of Santa Fosca (free entrance) surrounded by a 5-sided portico in the form of a Greek cross. Across from the cathedral is the small Torcello Museum (closed on Mondays) housed in 14th century mansions that were once the seat of the government. It houses medieval artifacts, mostly from the island, and archeological finds from the paleolithic to Roman period found in the area of Venice. Entrance is 3 euro or you can buy a combination ticket for the cathedral and museum. In the courtyard is the large stone throne known as Attila's Throne.
Also on the island are several short walking paths and the Devil's Bridge, Ponte del Diavolo, with no side railings.
Getting to Torcello
Torcello is a short boat ride from the island of Burano on vaporetto line 9 that runs between the two islands every half hour from 8:00 until 20:30. If you plan to visit both islands, it's best to buy an island transportation pass when you leave from Fondamente Nove, currently costing 18 euro for 12 hours (passes valid for longer time periods are also available).
Where to Eat or Stay on Torcello
Visitors can eat lunch or stay in the upscale and historic Locanda Cipriani, a unique place to stay after the visitors have gone for the day. It was here in 1948 that Ernest Hemingway wrote part of his novel, Across the River and Through the Trees, and the hotel has hosted many other famous guests.
More restaurants where you can have lunch on the island:
- Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo (closed Mondays) serves lunches based on fresh, seasonal ingredients and has outdoor seating in a garden (recommended in our Tips for Eating in Venice).
- Ristorante Villa '600 (closed Wednesdays) is housed in a building dating from the 1600's and has an outdoor dining area in a beautiful setting.
- Ristorante al Trono di Attila (closed Mondays except in summer) also serves lunch.
Currently the only other place to stay is Torcello Casa d'Artista Lucio Andrich, a bed and breakfast. If you stay there, they will also arrange dinner for you or a boat tour of the island. However the web site is difficult to read, does not have booking information, and is only in Italian.