On our most recent visit to Venice in October 2022 my husband and I made our usual journey to Torcello, the island that once had the largest population in the Venetian republic, at one time more than 20,000. It was the first island in the Venetian Lagoon to be inhabited; in the fifth century AD whole populations of cities along the coast of northern Italy fled attacks from barbarians and relocated to Torcello. The islanders became wealthy from trading, chiefly in salt, and a large city with palaces and churches was built. Silting up of the many canals and the ensuing malaria led to the population’s rapid decline and there are now fewer than 50 full-time residents on the island so it is a quiet and peaceful haven, only a five minute ferry crossing from Burano.
On our walk to the basilica and campanile we stopped for a snack lunch at a budget taverna with outside seating area; it’s much used by residents of Venice for weekend trips and is ideal for children. We called in again for an icecream on the way back to the vaporetti station. My aim on this visit was to climb the campanile, or bell tower, belonging to the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell Assunta. Originally built in 639 it is the oldest surviving building in the Venetian lagoon, although only the basilica and campanile, both rebuilt in 1008, are intact and open to the public. In 2014 my husband and brother-in-law went up the tower but on that occasion I stayed at the bottom with my sister who didn’t feel fit enough to make the ascent; instead we both sat on a bench and sketched the scene in front of us. At that time the tower was surrounded by scaffolding as repair work was starting, it then closed for some time while the work was carried out so I hadn’t been able to do my climb until 2022. I can recommend visiting the Cathedral if only to see the amazing tiles and the remarkable Byzantine mosaics; the very large mosaic depicting The Last Judgement is what I remember most from my visit in 2014 but it has undergone restoration since so I don’t know if it is currently still covered in scaffolding. Next to the Basilica is the Santa Fosca church and opposite is the Museum, with good toilets in a separate building (1.5 Euros admission) behind the museum building.
We bought our tickets for the campanile in the shop. I can’t remember what we paid but it was something like 5 Euros each (joint tickets can be bought for entry to the cathedral, museum etc.) I was a bit worried that my knees, or heart, would give out but my husband assured me that as there are not many stairs – just slopes – it wouldn’t be a problem. I was determined not to be hurried along and to take my time so we were lucky that nobody else was in the campanile as we climbed to the top. It is an amazing building – the slopes, with a few steps at corners – hugs the inside of the tower; every now and then there is a small window giving a glimpse outside and a reminder of how high up one is. I was fascinated by the intricate brickwork and arches. I reached the top and it was well worth the climb; the views were amazing. Directly below the campanile are the roofs of the cathedral and church, the garden behind the exclusive Locanda Cipriani, the canals and marshes of Torcello, an avenue of trees leading to a villa on a seemingly private island, small boats tied up along a canal bank near the cathedral. In the distance the leaning tower of the campanile on Burano can be picked out and, in the far distance, what looked like buildings at Marco Polo airport.
We were worried as the bells are sometimes rung on the hour and as 1.00 pm approached we descended a bit, along with a German couple who had arrived after us. We waited a while but nothing happened on that hour. I can only assume that the people selling or checking the tickets give a warning if the bells are to be rung. I took my time going down – I always find descending more difficult than climbing – but reached the bottom without mishap, having only stumbled slightly once. We then made our way to catch a boat back to Burano but as we’ve been there many times before we instead walked over the bridge to neighbouring Mazzorbo and walked through the Venissi vineyard there. We’d been before but wanted to see how it was looking, having seen Stanley Tucci’s recent tv programme that included a visit to the Venissa vineyard and restaurant: unfortunately it is not somewhere we could afford to eat but the vineyard is a pleasant area to walk round. We then went back to the vaporetti station just outside the vineyard to catch our boat back to Venice.