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Venice_lagoon Map

Looking at it now, it is almost impossible to believe that Torcello was once a major city with numerous palazzi, twelve parishes, sixteen cloisters and a population estimated to have reached 20,000 at its height.

Nowadays there is a single street/canal a cluster of houses, a church, a cathedral and a museum. The permanent population is now around sixty.

It is thought that the Venetians first moved here after Atila the Hun destroyed the Roman city of Altinum on the mainland in CE 452.

Whilst the shallowness of the northern lagoon made Torcello easy to settle in the early days, this eventually led to its downfall through a combination of malaria, the silting up of the canals and the introduction of larger vessels.

From the twelfth century onwards the inhabitant moved home (quite literally, taking most of the usable building materials with them) to the deeper waters of modern Venice. Fragments of the many churches and other buildings can be seen in the museum, which is housed in two fourteenth century palazzi.

Santa Maria Assunta and Santa Fosca

The Cathedral Church of Santa Maria Assunta can trace its foundation back to 639CE when the Bishop of Altinum moved his seat to the island following further Germanic invasions.

Only the baptistry and part of the central apse date from this period. Most of what you see today dates from the 11th, 13th and 14th centuries.

Inside there are some wonderful carved marble panels and some Byzantine Mosaics that nearly rival those in St Mark's Basilica. There is a brief audio tour available, but photography is not allowed.

Next door is the smaller church of Santa Fosca built in the 11th and 12th centuries and still used for regular worship.