Venetian Islands

The most important islands in the Venetian Lagoon are Murano, Burano and Torcello. The Lido is an important bathing resort and where the famous Venice Film Festival is held. Muranois situated to the northeast of Venice. It is formed of 7 islands divided by canals and joined to each other by bridges, like Venice itself. It has around 4,500 inhabitants and is one of the most populated centres in the lagoon. Murano is famous throughout the world for its excellent handcrafted glass ware.

Islands in the venetian lagoon: which are and what to see


Murano is one of the many sites founded by the refugees from Altino when they escaped from inland during the barbarian invasions. In 1291 the Serenissima decreed that the Venetian glassworks, which had been working for about two centuries, should be moved to Murano, to prevent the fires that the furnaces had often caused, a very serious fact given that the buildings were nearly all built in wood at that time. However, there are documents and ancient finds that testify the industry had already been on the island for some time. Concentrating the glassworks on Murano was a useful move for the Serenissima, which jealously guarded the art that had made it famous throughout the world and this way they were better able to control the business. The master glassmakers were obliged to live on the island and could only leave Venice with a special pass. However, a few did manage to escape and took their art abroad. Before Napoleon’s devastating arrival there were eighteen parishes, monasteries and convents on Murano. Today just three open churches remain (Saints Maryand Donato, Saint Peter Martyr, Saint Mary of Angels). The remains of some other churches can be seen, such asSan Maffio, Saint ClaireandSaint Stephen.

The Glass Museum in Palazzo Giustinian is worth visiting, given its exceptional artistic and historic value. Founded by the Abbot Vincenzo Zanetti it is situated in Fondamenta Marco Giustinian, in a gothic style palazzo the home of the Torcello bishops in ancient times.

Murano lighthouse is a cylindrical construction in Istria marble and is very important despite its internal position with respect to the sea: thanks to an ingenious play of mirrors the light beam points directly to the centre of the mouth of Lido port, guiding the ships home during the night. During the early Middle Ages the tower was built of wood and fires were lit on the top, and the light they produced was reflected by the mirrors and illuminated the lagoon. The lighthouse stands at the end of Viale Garibaldi.


Burano is in the northern part of the lagoon formed of a group of islands. A bridge joins Burano to the island of Mazzorbo. Burano is famous for its typical coloured houses, although the origins and reasons for this custom are not clear: an initial idea was that each colour was the symbol of a specific family, as there have always been just a few surnames on Burano. Another idea is that the bright colours helped the boaters find their home when it was foggy, which can be very thick in this area. Another ancient custom on the island is lacemaking.

Tradition holds that, like the other islands in the lagoon, Burano was founded by the inhabitants of the Roman town of Altino when they escaped from the barbarians. The first houses were pile-dwellings and only around the year 1000 were the first brick houses built. The mild and ventilated climate on the island helped keep malaria at bay. The local government was soon drawn into Venice’s orbit. The heart of the island is Piazza Galuppi created by burying a canal, and the church of Saint Martin stands there, which is famous for its heavily leaning bell tower that was caused when its pile work foundations collapsed. There is a beautiful Crucifixion by Tiepolo inside the temple.

The island of Torcello is situated to the north of Burano, and was inhabited right from the first centuries of the Roman empire, at the same time the nearby Altino was developing. Thanks to a series of reclamation works, the population grew on the island in the VII century, the same time that the fruit orchards, vines and a glassworks began to develop.

The transfer of the diocese of Altino to the island coincided with the foundation of the cathedral. The island was an important bridgehead for Venetian trading towards the Adriatic Sea, together with the nearby Mazzorbo, Burano, Ammiana and Costanziaco. Until the XIV century, Torcello was the main wool working centre for the Venetian Duchy. The town had its own nobles and was run by two councils, a local steward and a local authority. Beginning fromthe XV century, the people began leaving the island due to the closeness of Venice and the unhealthy air from the swamps, which caused continuous attacks of pestilence.


On Torcello it is worth visiting the cathedral of Maria Assunta, which was built in its current form around the year 1000, and is distinctive in its large windows with their imposts formed of stone slabs. The western wall, with the main entrance, inside is covered by a large byzantine mosaic representing the Universal Judgement. The church of Santa Fosca dates back to the XII century, and has a Greek cross layout and the porch with marble columns and capital, repeats the interior architectural design.

In the space opposite the two churches, bordered by Palazzo Podestà, stands what is known as “Attila’s throne”, a stone seat used by the magistrates who administered justice on the island and, according to legend, also used by the King of the Huns. However, this legend is without grounds as the Huns stopped at Aquileia and never reached Torcello.

Sant’Erasmois in the northern part of the Venetian lagoon and in size is second only to Venice. Its special position and fertile soil make it ideal for farming. At the end of 1500, Francesco Sansovino in his work Venetia, città nobilissima et singolare (Venice, noble and singular town), referred to the island saying it was rich in orchards and vines and supplied “alla città copia di herbaggi, e di frutti, in molta abbondanza e perfetti” (copious herbs and fruits, in great abundance and perfect). Farming still continues there today (a typical Sant’Erasmo produce is the castraure, early harvested artichokes), and consequently it is known as the Orchard of Venice. Like the other lagoon islands, Sant’Erasmo began to be populated with the refugees from inland, mainly from Altino. The first church was built in 792 and consecrated to the Martyr Saints Erme and Erasmus, on the site where a hermitage used to stand. The church was renovated in the XII century and became a parish under the mother church of Saints Mary and Donato in Murano. In the 19th century the previous fortifications were reinforced with the construction of the Fort of Sant’Erasmo and the nearby Maximilian Tower, which was built between 1843 and 1844 on the southern tip of the island on the foundations of an old French fort. The tower was also used during the second world war as an anti-aircraft battery. In 1945, during their retreat, the Germans tried to blow it up but did not manage however they caused considerable damage. After the war it was used to house the evacuees temporarily and later became a farming warehouse. Renovated in 2004 it now houses art and photography exhibitions and cultural events.

In 1929, shortly after instituting the parish of Saint Erasmus (1926), the church of Christ King was consecrated. Its façade is particularly interesting, which degrades from the centre to the sides following vertical lines marked by pilasters and moved by curved elements at the top. Inside there is a valuable work from the Tintoretto School, the Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus.

Venice Lido is a narrow stretch of land rising out of the water 11 km long between the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea, bordered by the San Nicolò ports on one side and Malamocco on the other, joined to Venice and the mainland by the public transport ferries. In ancient times there was a Benedictine Abbey in the northern part of the island, which conserved the remains of San Nicolò, patron saint of sailors. In 1389 a small piece of land near the church was converted to a Jewish Cemetery, which is very interesting to visit having been renovated and opened to the public. A town began to develop in the XVII century around the new church of Saint Mary Elizabeth, but until the end of the XIX century the island was mainly farmed. Due to being so quiet and with few inhabitants it was much loved by writers and poets, who chose the Lido as their home or for holidays (for example George Gordon Byron and Thomas Mann).

The coastal area of the island is distinguished by the Murazzi, an 18th century work to defend it from the sea. In the 1930s the famous Casino and Film Palace were built in this area, where numerous important events are held, the most famous being the Film Festival. The centre of the island is full of liberty style buildings and gardens. The main street, Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, is a tree lined avenue that crosses the entire length of the island from the lagoon to the open sea. There are also a number of canals. The original centre of Santa Maria Elisabetta directly overlooks the lagoon, and there are a number of late 19th century buildings there together with the church. Following the lagoon coast we find the Votive Temple, built as a monument in memory of the fallen in the first world war. Travelling along Riviera San Nicolò we reach the San Nicolò district, where there is the “Lido Ridotto” the largest fortification on the island, where we can admire the old 17th century church. In ancient times on Ascension Day the Serenissima celebrated the Wedding with the Sea here, which is still celebrated every May. On the opposite, sea side, of the island there is the fascinating Promenade, a wide avenue flanked by marine pine trees which runs from San Nicolò to the Murazzi area.