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The island of Torcello 
Jpg: Philip Resheph


The motonave only takes a few minutes  to steam over to Torcello, the sprawling, marshy island where the history of Venice began. At low tide, you could well imagine  yourself in the Fens or the Camargue, and  there are certainly as many mosquitoes. 

Torcello today is a rural backwater with a  population of barely 100; it is difficult to believe that in the fourteenth century there more than 20,000 people living here. This was the first settlement in the lagoon, founded in the fifth century by the citizens of the mainland Roman town of Altino.The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta dates from AD 638 and is the oldest building on the lagoon. Successive waves of emigration from Altino were sparked off by barbarian invasions, first by Attila and his Huns, and later, in the seventh century, by the Lombards or `long beards'. But Torcello's dominance of the lagoon did not last: Venice itself was  found to be more salubrious (malaria was rife on Torcello) and more easily defendable. Even the bishop of Torcello chose to live on Murano - in the palace that now houses the glass museum. But  past decline is present charm, and rural Torcello is a great antidote to the pedestrian traffic jams around San Marco.  Add the pull of two extremely fine churches and a couple of good   restaurants, and it's easy to see why the Torcello experience is a perennial tourist favourite.  (Timeout) 

Sixty people live on Torcello today. The big attraction is the basilica, which dates from 1008, the apse mosaic (below, 13th-century), and the alleged throne of Attila the Hun . (Philip Greenspun) 


By:   Natasha Wallace
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Created 11/3/00