Torcello ★★

View from the Tower of the Cathedral of St. Mary Assumption, Torcello, Venice, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
View from the Tower of the Cathedral of St. Mary Assumption

Glittering mosaics, breathtaking views, and a marshy proto-Venice in the Venetian Northern Lagoon

Before there was a "Venice," there was Torcello.

Grassy, semi-deserted Torcello is pretty much a one-trick pony: glittering Byzantine mosaics in a cathedral oddly stranded in the middle of a desolate, largely abandoned mud island. There's a reason for that.

Venice 1.0

Torcello was Venice 1.0, the first of the lagoon islands to be called home by a mainland population from fleeing the Barbarian hordes that overran the Italian peninsula during the Dark Ages. Most significanlty, inhabitants of the ancient coastal town of Altino fleeing from none other than Aittla the Hun in 452, officially moving their bishopric to Torcello in 547.

Itrs marshy badlands give you the best feeling for what Venice looked like when people first started settling there.

Torcello was a thriving center of some 20,000 souls from the 7th to 11th centuries. It was from here that settlers first started moving to the area around the Rialto Bridge to build what we now know as Venice.

Starting in the 11th and 12th centuries, however, malaria and competition from the upstart community of La Serenissima set in and quickly depopulated the isle.

Venice scavenged the ruins for building materials, so most of its buildings and palaces have now utterly vanished.

Torcello now runs on a skeleton crew of 75 inhabitants (though that's up from 20 just a few decades ago).

Today Torcello consists of little more than one long canal leading from the ferry landing past scraggly vineyards and several swampy canals outlined by logs hammered into the muddy banks (again, a glimpse at how Venice looked before the stone palazzi were built). to a clump of lovely buildings around a sun-bleached dirt-and-gravel square at its center.

Oh, and there's also a world-famous restaurant.

Locanda Cipriani: A famous restaurant in the middle of nowhere

Somewhat incongruously, the island is also home to a world-famous restaurant (famous because Hemingway loved it) called Locanda Cipriani ( Yes, that Cipriani, of various "Ciprianis" around the world—not to mention Harry's Bar in downtown Venice (the original Cipriani's first name was Arrigo, which is Italian for "Harry.") Book ahead for a meal.

11C mosaics in the apse of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (Photo by Simon)
Cathedral of Torcello
Venice: The Northern Lagoon

The mosaics of the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta

Various archaeological artefacts on display outside the Museo Provinciale di Torcello on Torcello (Photo by Ethan Doyle White)
Archaeological Museum of Torcello
Venice: The Northern Lagoon

The small Museo Archeologico della Provincia di Venezia di Torcello

Devil's Bridge over the Grand Canal on the Island of Torcello (Photo by Zairon)
The Devil's Bridge
Venice: The Northern Lagoon

Torcello's Ponte del Diavolo is a medieval bridge with a satanic legend

 (Photo by François Philipp)
Santa Fosca
Venice: The Northern Lagoon

A medieval Byzantine-style church on Torcello

Photo gallery
  • View from the Tower of the Cathedral of St. Mary Assumption, Torcello, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
  • The Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta and church of Santa Fosca, Torcello, Italy (Photo by AnRo0002)
  • Grand Canal of the Island of Torcello, Torcello, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
  • A vineyard, Torcello, Italy (Photo by Deror_avi)
  • Torcello is one of the lest developed parts of Venice, Torcello, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
  • A side canal, Torcello, Italy (Photo by Deror_avi)
  • Fields from Ponte del Diavolo, Torcello, Italy (Photo by Remi Mathis)
Torcello tours
More tours


How long does Torcello take?

You can easily be done with this tiny island in an hour while you wait for the next ferry (half-hourly), but if you take time to tramp around à la Hemingway, you might stay for two (just don't get stuck when the last "9" ferry for the night heads back to Burano at 8:10pm).

How to see everything before it closes

Last entry to the museum is are at 5pm (4pm winter); last entry to the basilica is 5pm (4:30pm winter); Santa Fosca closes at 6pm so do them in that order to fit them all in.

How do I get to Torcello?

Take the "9" ferry from Burano; getting to Burano, though, can get a bit complicated, and is explained in detail on a separate page.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).