📍 🇮🇹 Searching for early Venice in Torcello
Urban folklore will boast that northern Italians began the development of the Venetian lagoon here in the 5-6th century CE, while actually, there are signs of even earlier Roman Empire activities in Torcello... (go to the museum of Torcello for more); that being said, Attila and other Lombardic invasions did force these communities to leave the coast for good (bye bye "terra ferma") and turn a malaria-infested swamp into a land of hope.
All poor in the beginning, all free to start over.
It would be difficult, without this historical context, to express the emotion of discovering the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral and the Santa Fosca church nearby.
"One of the few buildings representative of the earliest [Byzantine] forms of architecture in Venice'', wrote English historian John Ruskin. "Like the bleached bones of a human skeleton washed ashore by the tide, added Henry James in better prose a few decades later.
Now circle outside before going in. The old red bricks are lovely, all rounded by modest arches but with these triangle-shapes and lacy vaults that will spread across Venice and beyond. This decoration is extremely scant - you might even say repressed when compared with later Venice - perhaps because of Torcello's vulnerability and past fear of catching the eye of stronger adversaries?
Try to notice somewhere a white marble plate supported by two small lions - you can tell, by its charming clumsiness, that one lion was carved in the Middle Ages, while the other feels closer to us, Renaissance probably, as the cold perfection of its features indicates.
____ Sources ____
>> John Ruskin, “The Stones of Venice”, 1851
>> Henry James, “Italian Hours”, 1909
>> Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan, “Venice Triumphant : The Horizons of a Myth”, 2005