The boat on the lawn, one day in Torcello

by Katia Ceccarelli

At the time when it was inhabited Torcello (1) should seem close enough to the mainland to come back at any time.

That part of Italy disputed by Langobards and Byzantines was a land in desperation and confusion so that some people conceived of putting a stretch of sea between them, their animals, their activities and the war in order to be able to work and live in peace; a sea which was not awe-inspiring as it was as green as the lawns and not yet as blue as the sky and the unknown.

Torcello became an important spot: churches, houses and a cathedral were built there, and there were even relics of saints. From the ancient Altino (2) some merchants, peasants and artisans had moved and lived there. And there were so many fruit trees there to make compote and have sweet food all winter long.

Today reaching Torcello by public transport requires patience, as the means of transport are not very frequent, if you miss the ferry you have to wait one hour

but navigating the upper Venetian lagoon it’s worth the wait.

You have to head towards Burano and sail along Murano and from the steamship you can watch the shop signs and brick facades of some renowned and austere glass blowing workshops, a famous shopping destination.

Landing on Torcello you won’t see the brightly painted houses of Burano,

colourful photograph subjects for any amateur photographer: as a matter of fact everyone can take great pictures in Burano. And as a matter of fact spouses, being fed up with all those colours, go to Torcello to find a photographic backdrop worthy of their love.

Those who land here are looking for the suspension of time and for a deep breath: they just want to escape from the tourist frenzy in order to savour

the awareness of the traveller.

Unlike the narrow streets of Venice, here in Torcello you are not oppressed by the continuous and constant clamour and it’s so nice to remain silent: you are

encouraged to speak in a low voice so that you can hear the birds sing and the reeds rustle, and you can smell the fresh green scent of grass and wildflowers.

Torcello is fruitful countryside in the middle of the lagoon, here the dominant colour is green together with the warm shades of stone and terracotta; the island is caressed by the triumphant splendour of Venice while preserving its own unique identity.

Pomegranate trees pops up everywhere in courtyards, vegetable and ornamental gardens, the place retains a touch of the Orient and the Byzantine soul rooted in Venice.

The stones and bricks come from Ravenna and the maritime pines are accompanied by carob trees and cypresses. Here is an ancient mosaic of The Last Judgment that inspired Giotto

This village in the middle of the green water is inhabited by about twenty people, and the area of the island itself is about two square kilometres.

There are no designer boutiques swamped by Russians, Chinese and Indians: its luxury is represented by the Cipriani Inn, where Hemingway used to stay when he needed some rest and relaxation.

You can walk without being pushed and shoved hence you can walk with your nose in the air in Torcello. Here the street vendors look after the stray cats that, in turn, keep them company during the working days curled up in the shadow, alert but fearless because they know they are respected.

The girl working at the kiosk talks to the coffee lovers; infrastructures are always a problem, electricity is necessary, she has got her own electricity meter, but the power connection is that of the church, the austere Santa Fosca, that watches over business.

The residents hide behind the shutters, they close them at lunch time, tourists, despite being well-mannered, are curious anyway, they sneak through the narrow streets and from the entrance gates they take pictures of courgettes and tomatoes which, by the way, are not particularly impressive this year.

On the waterway silent boats sail by, carrying couples and friends to have lunch, amid flourishing tamarisk trees, not like the withered ones described by D’Annunzio. The delicious smell of seafood dishes mingles with the scent of some orange and sweet flowers, and people toast discreetly by delicately clinking glasses and wishing good things in full but controlled voice and with the typical “r” sound of the Venetians.

I set off along the path in the shade that goes into the countryside. I hear the noise of a tractor: a tractor in Venice, it sounds like the start of a joke.

There isn’t any school, nor a post office and not even a grocery shop: you have to go to Burano for all this. There is a Devil’s bridge without a parapet so that you can prudently go directly from the fields and tiny streets to the main road Fondamenta dei Borgognoni.

I am wondering what the inhabitants of Torcello do in winter. I heard someone say that they look at the sunsets that here are beautiful even when it’s foggy.
(1) Torcello is a quiet and sparsely populated island at the northern end of the Venetian Lagoon. It is the oldest continuously populated region of Venice, and once held the largest population of the Republic of Venice. (

2) Altinum (modern Altino, a “Frazione” ward of  Quarto d’Altino -  not to be confused with another Italian town with the same name in the   province of Chieti) is the name of an ancient coastal town of the Indo-European people o  Veneti’ 15 km SE of the modern Treviso, northern Italy, on the edge of the lagoons. Located on the eastern coast of that nation, at the mouth of the river  Silis, it was first destroyed by  Attila in 452 and gradually abandoned by its inhabitants, who sought refuge in the islands of the lagoon, such as  Torcello and  Burano, in the area where later Venice would be built. 



Photo credits:
Katia Ceccarelli

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