Basilica in Torcello


Already an inhabited centre during the 5/7th centuries, after the invasion of the Unni and the Longobards: is where the refugees from the city of Altino found shelter. The island’s name probably derives from TURRICELLUM (the small tower erected in memory of the lost Patria).
In 638, the Bishop of Altino transferred sacred relics here, and from that moment on the history of Torcello continued to exist until the decline of the Republic. It became an autonomous government, with Podestà and Consiglio, who ran a wool industry.

After a walk through the silence of the main canal, whose banks are united by the so called Ponte del Diavolo (Devils Bridge), in the middle of reed thicket and typical houses of Veneto, you come to the heart of the island, la piazzetta (small square).

  • Piazzetta with its marble seat, is called the “trono di Attila” (Attila’s throne), but which was really used by the tribunes of the island; on one side there’s the palazzetto gotico (Gothic Palaces) of the 14th Century - once upon a time seat of the island’s Consiglio (Council) - and on the other side, the Palazzo dell’Archivio (Archives). The Palazzo del Podestà is situated between the two.
  • The Cattedrale (Cathedral) is dedicated to S. Maria Assunta and should have been founded during the times of Eraclio, emperor of Bisanzio in 639, by order of dell’Esarca ravennate Isaacio (from Ravenna). Originally, a simple church of devotion, but then it was restored and renovated due to the fact it become the seat of the Bishop at the end of the 600’s. The circular Battistero (Baptistery) was positioned in front of it. The Cathedral underwent reconstruction and renovation in 864 and 1008. Looking at it today, we can see a Veneto-Byzantium construction of the 11th Century, based on Roman Cathedrals, it is the most ancient, preserved, architectural monument of the lagoon. The Facciata (Façade): is from the 9th Century, increased in height during the 11th, preceded by a porch. On the side of the Church, you can still see the stipiti (window-posts) in stone, aiding the closure of the windows. L’abside centrale esterna (the external central arch) is from the 7th Century and was increased in height during the 11th Century, incorporating the small arch corresponding to the Crypt below it. The campanile (tower) is a robust square tower. From the summit, you can enjoy a enchanting view of the lagoon, spreading out on one side towards the mainland and on the other towards Venice.
  • The interior: Basilican layout of three naves, two lines of nine columns with Corinthian type arches (all from the 11th century, apart from the second and third from the right, which date back to the 6th Century), three arches and wooden ceiling. The Flooring is in marble mosaic dating back to the 11th Century. There’s also the stone tomb of the Bishop Paolo d’Altino. The coro (choir) area in the presbytery is original, dating back to the 11th Century; The Iconostasis is composed of boards depicting the Virgin and the Apostles: the marble Pluteus have splendid figures of lions and peacocks on it and probably dates back to the 6th Century; the Main Presbytery Altar is primitive from the 7th Century and contains the vestments of S. Eliodoro, first Bishop of Altino, who transferred here in 635. On the left, on the walls, you can find original inscriptions of the foundation of the Church: this is the oldest document ever written regarding Venetian history. From its six steps, you go up to the Cattedra Vescovile (Bishop’s Pulpit). Under the arch, the original Crypt extends out. The Basin and the Triumphant Arc are covered by mosaic, of which the original icons date back to the 7th Century, but its execution can also be linked to the 11th Century. The VergineTeologa” is represented here, that is the Mother of God (or “Hodegjètria:” a position which she indicates with her hand to the child she’s holding in her arms; a symbol of the one who indicates the way of truth and life) and further below, the line of the 12 Apostles (these are from the school of Ravenna); on the Arc of Triumph the Annunciation (Byzantium). The mosaics of the lateral right arch were inspired by those of the presbytery of S. Vitale of Ravenna and were probably carried out around 864, during the era of Bishop Adeodato. On the opposite wall, you can find a wonderful mosaic, depicting complex figures of the Apotheosis of Christ and the Universal Judgement, which dates back to the 12th/13th Centuries. On the upper part, there’s a scene depicting the Descent to the state of Limbo and two marvellous Archangels. Together the overall style has an immense narrative/ didactic value. It’s divided in 6 areas from the top:
    1) Christ on the cross between the Virgin and St. John2) the Descent of Christ to the state of Limbo (Christ breaks down the doors of hell and the dead rise from their graves, Christ is holding Adam’s arm, behind you can see Eve and two Kings), with the two Archangels Michael and Gabriel. – 3) Christ in Glory in the Mandorla of light between the Virgin, S. John the Baptist, the Apostles and Saints4) l’Etoimasia on the prepared throne, you can see the open book of the Sacred Scriptures (symbol of the presence of God awaiting the Final Judgement), Adam, Eve and the Angels are all kneeling with smaller angels – 5) above the door: The Archangel Michael weighs the souls with scales and the Devil puts those who belong to him in his haversack/ on the right sits Lucifer in a stream of fire/on the left the chosen – 6) on the right, the damned and the various infernal punishments, on the left various scenes, amongst which St. Peter at the door of Paradise.
  • Next to the Cathedral, the religious settlement is completed by the Chiesa di S. Fosca: constructed on a central plan (reminiscent of an old paleo-christian martyrium of the 11th/12th Centuries, with an external Porch on five sides, the central arch is pentagonal shaped. The Interior, characterized by soberness and spirituality of the ambience, is set out like a Greek cross with three naves; the planned central dome was substituted by wooden coverage.
  • In the two Council Palaces and in the Archives, you can find the home of the Lapidarium (Lapidary) discovered during archaeological digs carried out on the island and the History Museum of Estuario


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