OK – no real walking and certainly no cycling! As always,Venice is a marvellous place to visit – despite the crowds, the heat and the rip-offs. After a day of sightseeing in the city we spent the remaining couple of days of the trip visiting some of the islands on the lagoon.
This is the narrow strip of land which separates the central part of the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Once just a natural barrier, the Lido is now Venice’s seaside. It’s also the origin of the word ‘lido’ as used in the English-speaking world to describe bathing establishments. It was developed as a seaside resort at the beginning of the twentieth century, and has been popular for beach holidays ever since.
The Lido is Venice, yet not Venice. The atmosphere on the Lido is very different from Venice: there are leafy residential avenues, roads, cars, cyclists and pavements. There are lovely views over the lagoon to Venice, and I guess on a really clear day it would be possible to see the summits of the Dolomites behind the city’s towers and rooftops. As it was the tail end of the Film Festival the Lido was really dressed up in its’ finery. Sadly we were a day too late to meet George Clooney!
What a lovely place! (So much better than neighbouring Merano) .Exploring Burano provided countless photo opportunities. There are many charming yards and squares where drying laundry adds to the general atmosphere.
The town of Burano covers the island, with several small canals acting as thoroughfares. There are a couple of larger squares, and many little lanes and alleys which we were able to explore. The town’s fishing industry can be glimpsed along the canalsides and around the island’s shores, where there are tiny fishing harbours. There are no essential tourist attractions other than the island itself and its general ambience. Apart from the painted houses, Burano’s most identifiable landmark is the island’s church, San Martino, which has an impressively-leaning belltower, to rival the most slanting of Venice.
While Burano’s fishermen were out on the lagoon, their wives would traditionally sit outside their coloured houses making lace. The brightly-painted walls extend all the way through Burano, not just along the tourist canals.. My guidebook suggested the painting began with the fishermen’s desire to identify their own houses from the lagoon;this seemed implausible as the majority aren’t visible from the water. Burano certainly seems to be a great place to live. Open doors and laundry drying outside in the lanes add to the impression of a friendly and tight-knit community. Lunch here – possibly the best piece of freshly grilled fish I have ever eaten!
On the way back we stopped off in Torcello – this must be the most intriguing and the most atmospheric of the islands in the Venetian lagoon. Up in the northern lagoon, choked with mud flats and marshes, this silent island was once a busy and important town.
Torcello was first settled by the inhabitants of Altino (Altinum), a once-important Roman town. Led by their bishop, they fled successive invasions which laid waste their mainland homes, and built their new town on this island. Over the years, however, Venice grew more important while Torcello found its waterways silting up and its swamps malarial. Eventually the residents of Torcello packed their bags (and even, supposedly, their homes) and took them south over the lagoon to sites nearer the hub of trade and politics. Nowadays just a handful of residents remain; the town’s piazza is overgrown with grass and weeds, and the two churches of Torcello stand in magnificent isolation.
Alighting at Torcello’s ferry stop, you find yourself at the end of a path and canal, both leading to the heart of the island. Apart from one or two buildings along the way, the landscape is mostly field and marsh. It is very hard to imagine the bustling town that stood here. It’s not until you arrive in the main piazza that any signs of urban history emerge. In the dusty piazza stands one of the most impressive and interesting churches in the Venice area, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta. Founded in the seventh century, today’s cathedral mostly dates to an eleventh-century reconstruction. A section of the earlier mosaic floor can be viewed through a glass panel. On the walls and apse are some of the most fantastic mosaics I have ever seen: a Madonna and Child on a gold background, and a scary depiction of the Last Judgement with details such as serpents crawling through skulls – worth going there just to see these alone!
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