Torcello Island (pic from

Torcello (route 9 from Burano, about 1.5 hour from San Mark)

Torcello was one of the first lagoon islands which was successively populated by those mainlanders escaping invading barbarians around the 5th century—nearly 500 years before Venice itself became a republic. It was the most important settlement in the lagoon area before Venice’s risen. Now there’re only 20 inhabitants, but it’s said around the 14th century it reached a population of 20,000 people. Today here stands the lagoon’s oldest cathedral dating from 639, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta. Seeinwikipedia

在罗马帝国覆灭后,为了逃避匈奴王阿提拉的入侵,在威尼斯共和国成立500年前,Torcello岛已经是威尼托泻湖地区难民最早的定居点之一。鼎盛时期曾有20000居民(现在是20)。岛上保存有泻湖地区最古老的教堂--Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta

Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Cathedral of  Torcello

This basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, was founded as the episcopal seat in 639 under Emperpr Heraclius by order of Isaac, exarch of Ravenna, then later substantially modified in the 9th and 11th centuries. Due to the isolation of the locaton, the structure enjoys a remarkable state of preservation with its’ Veneto-Byzantine flavor.

Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta始建于公元639年,后于9世纪11世纪经历两次较大改动。由于泻湖地区政治经济中心逐渐向威尼斯转移,日渐偏僻的大教堂如今依然保存完好。

Front view

Torcello Cathedral (pic based on A. Niero, The basilica of  Torcello and Santa Fosca, Venice, n.d., p. II)

Typical basilica plan, late Roman style, with 3 aisles, punctuated by marble columns now.

The original plan was a simple triple-naved rectangular space withe a single apse at the east end, which shows basilicas of this type already existed in the upper Adriatic region.



The ruins precede the front of the basilica is the narthex to which was once annexed the 7th century baptistry

Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta and Church of Santa Fosca.

The massive brick exterior is decorated only by concentric layers of brickwork around the windows and blind arches.


Typical Byzantine orders.

Mosaics of  Byzantine-Ravennate school on the front wall, the most important artistry.  (pic from

Last Judgement

Torcello Cathedral, interior (pic from Deborah Howard, The Architectural History of Venice)

Inside the cathedral the fine marble columns, the delicately carved capitals and the exquisite mosaics, contrasting sharply with the rugged exterior, are reminiscent of the Ravennate antecedents.

In 1008, Bishop Orso Orseolo (later doge) launched a rebuild formed the most of  the present aspect of this building.  The floor was raised and a new mosaic pavement begun, with clerestory windows added on the south side. Then the campanile was erected.  Today one part of the former floor with a different pavement style can still be seen inside the building.


The bishop’s throne and the mosaic figure, Mary Mother of God.


Church of Santa Fosca

This Church was built to house the body of the early Christian martyr of the same time, before 1011 and as a martyrium adjacent to the basilica.  The church was essentially a place for pilgrimage and meditation, served a very different function from the basilica.

Church of Santa Fosca于11世纪为了存放同名的圣人遗体而建。主要用于朝圣冥想,与旁边的大教堂区分

front view

The portico surrounds most sides of the church is probably a twelfth-century addition.

Small cornice over the column in the interior of Santa. Fosca.

Santa Fosca, Torcello, plan  (pic from L. Cicognara, A.Diedo and G. Selva, Le fabbriche e i monumenti cospicue di Venezia, I, Venice, 1838)

Although the centralized structure was inherited from the Romans, the form of a Greek cross inscribed within anoctagon reflects the influence from Byzantine architecture of the 11th century.

St Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, plan  (pic from

Church of Santa Fosca, section (pic from

Pendentive invented by Byzantine architects allows central dome be built on the a square structure. The roof of Santa Fosca was built by wood instead of stones because it costs less and does no harm to the overall effect.  Inside the church, the combination of round and polygonal columns adds variation to the colonnade, the arches punctuate the repeated shadow of the arcade and lead the eye up to the roofline. This array of protrusions of different shapes, rising to a climax in the center, already seen in San Vitale in Ravenna(6th century), is typical of Byzantine churches of the Near East.

an addition supposed to be recent

back view

The only external decoration of the church is the outside apse which is decorated with elaborate patterns in the brickwork. This dog-tooth pattern was a common ornament on early Veneto-Byzantine churches. The combination of the rich red color of the brickwork and the crisp white marble detailing have provided an element of warmth for the early Venetians in their bleak, inhospitable environment. This combination of red and white was also long to be a favorite color theme in Venetian architecture.




Antonio Niero, The basilica of Torcello and Santa Fosca’s

Deborah Howard, The Architecture History of Venice

Guido ZUcconi, Venice an architectural guide


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