Torcello offers ancient mosaics, greenery, breathing space, and picnic opportunities. Some people call this tiny island the most magical place in Venice. Nearly deserted today (except for the posh Locanda Cipriani, an inn and restaurant), the island still casts a spell, perhaps because, in the 10th century, this was Venice. In their flight from barbarians 1,500 years ago, the first Venetians landed here, prospering even after many left to found the city of Venice. By the 10th century, Torcello had a population of 10,000 and was more powerful than Venice itself. From the 12th century on, the lagoon around the island began silting up, and a malarial swamp developed. As malaria took its toll, Torcello was gradually abandoned and its palaces and houses were dismantled, their stones used for building materials in Venice. All that's left now is the hauntingly beautiful cathedral (1008), containing exquisite Byzantine mosaics. The Virgin and the Apostles in the apse, as well as the spectacular Last Judgment, date from the 12th century, predating most of the mosaics in the Basilica di San Marco. There's also the graceful 11th- and 12th-century church of Santa Fosca.
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