The French under Napoleon, who had overruled the Venetian Republic, suppressed the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in 1806. Transformed in an artillery depot the monastery underwent grave deterioration.
When I learned that the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore had been restored by the Cini Foundation, I read more about the Cini family. There are many cultural foundations but I found something special, something tragic about this one.
During World War II, Count Vittorio Cini was Minister of Communications (1943). He resigned after deep differences with Mussolini and was arrested by the Germans (September 1943) and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. His son Giorgio sold all the jewels of his mother the actress Lyda Borelli and was able to have his father released from the concentration camp by bribing the SS guards (June 1944).
When the son, who had saved his life, died in a plane crash near Cannes in 1949, the father Vittorio Cini established the foundation in memory of his son and devoted his life to works of philanthropy.
In 1951 the Italian Government granted the monastery and the island to the Giorgio Cini Foundation, which restored the monastery and rehabilitated the island. There is an historical library. There are exhibitions, concerts and meetings.
Guided tours take place on Saturday and Sunday from 10 till 16 h, when there are no events, see www.cini.it .
There is an exclusive guest house called La Foresteria where heads of state like Reagan, Carter, Thatcher, Mitterrand stayed. You can't find better in Venice.
Murano is the most visited and the most famous of the Venetian Islands, courtesy of the famous glass-works that produce the famous Murano Glass. Like Venice it is an archipelago of individual islands joined by bridges and divided by canals.
During the Middle Ages the glass makers were settled on the island because of fire hazard from their furnaces.
The 16th century was known as the “great age” of Murano glass, when the island supported some 37 glass factories and a population of 30,000. Murano Glass was one of the few Venetian exports and as such, the secret of this skillful craft was tightly guarded.
The glass-factory's showroom full of magnificent glassware. However, the prices are not cheap here. Some items cost several ten-thousands euros! Prices are much more reasonable in the gift shop where you can buy plenty of souvenirs or simply enjoy the island without buying what you don’t need and don’t want.
Fans of Glass should also plan a visit on Fondamenta Giustinian 8, to the Glass Museum, which was the ancient residence of the bishops of Torcello.
Entrance tickets cost €4,00 or €6,00 for a ticket which combines entrance to the Glass Museum and the Lace Museum on Burano.
The nearby Church of San Mary & Donato has a beautiful mosaic pavement from the 12th Century.
The next stop is a 15-minute ride to the lovely fishing island of Burano. The island is the most picturesque of Venetian Islands of the Lagoon. The village is a scaled down version of Venice with small canals, and pastel coloured houses like in Nyhavn - Copenhagen. Burano is well known for its lace making; in the 16th century the industry was at its height and Burano was cited through Europe for having produced the finest lace.
Legend has it that lace-making began when a Venetian sailor, returning after a long voyage, brought his ladylove a gift of exotic seaweed called mermaid's lace. To while away the hours once the sailor was back at sea, the girl tried to re-create the intricate design of the seaweed in lace.
The Lace Museum, which opened in 1981, is situated in the old Lace-School (Piazza Galuppi 187). The only trouble is that few women are left on Burano willing to spend the time to make these fine artworks. Beware, however, of vendors selling items that are not genuine Burano lace.
Public Transportation: There is a direct boat, the DM, from Tronchetto, Piazzale Roma and the railway station (Ferrovia).
Murano's Faro stop is the first halt on the LN (Laguna Nord) ferry from the Fondamenta Nove on Venice's northern shore, which continues to Burano. From Faro, it's a 33-minute trip to Burano.
A good opportunity to visit the Isola di San Michele, the cemetery of Venice, is on returning from a "tourist trap" visit to a Murano glass factory offered by your hotel with a commission for them on your purchases of glass.
The island is surrounded with a red-brick wall and a line of tall cypress trees rising high behind it. The pontoon gives access directly to the entrance of the cemetery.
In fact two islands, the one containing the convent and the other one uninhabited, were joined by decision of Napoleon's occupying forces who told the Venetians to start hauling their dead across the water instead of burying them all over town.
Only a few large monuments exist here. The cemetery is divided into sections by plain pale walls, or walls of burial niches. It is a romantic place which alternates cypress, flowers, monuments, graves, and columbarium. The church San Michele built by Coducci from 1469 till 1478 is one of the first religious buildings of the Renaissance built in Venice.
The part of the cemetery most visited by the tourists is the section with the tombs of composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and the founder of the "Russian Ballets" Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929). He created with Stravinsky the "Rite of the Spring". Visitors deposit small pebbles on their graves by way of homage.
This orthodox "Greek" section where rest also some noble Russian families has an atmosphere of rustic decay in contrast to the formal and beautifully tended Catholic gardens of graves.
Other moving place is the row of children's graves. Stillborn children, very young dead children plunge the guest into the fragility of the existence.
The San Michele Cemetery is crowded and the dead are left to rest just twelve years, after which the family must pay to remove what remains to small metal boxes for permanent storage, otherwise the bones will be tossed into a common bone yard.
But let us go back to Venice and its animation of the alive.
If I had to live on an island that would be San Giorgio: the view on San Marco and not the crowd of San Marco!
My favoured place to sit and look around are the steps (photo 2) at the entrance of the church with above me the white façade of Palladio. Under the afternoon sun the façade, the pavement of the square between the church and the lagoon, are brilliant. The sun is playing on the waves which at high tide roll over the edge of the piazza (photo 1).
On each of my visits (in summer) I was surprised there were not more people visiting the magnificent basilica and the campanile (75 m high) from where the view is really amazing. I never had to queue at the elevator and on the top there were less than 20 persons so that everybody could stand at the openings and make a tour of the horizon (photo 3).
From here you see the whole of Venice, the lagoon with its green waters, all the islands of which the biggest, the Lido, in the south and beyond the Adriatic Sea. The island of San Giorgio is separated from Venice by the Basin and Canal of San Marco and the Canal of the Giudecca. The only link with the city is by the vaporetto Linea 2. It is separated from the Large Giudecca island by the small canal della Grazia with no bridge.
In the 9th c. there was already a church consecrated to St George; a Benedictine monastery was established in 982. The present church designed by Palladio was built at the end of the 16th c. The monastery became very important. In 1800 a pope was elected here while Rome was occupied by the French army. In 1806 the French suppressed the monastery and stole a number of works of art among which the "Wedding at Cana" from Veronese now exposed in Le Louvre.
The island became a free port with a new harbour built in 1812 of which you can see the hexagonal lighthouses (photo 4).
A few monks remained to officiate in the church, while the monastery became an artillery depot and underwent grave deterioration.
In 1951 the Italian Government granted the monastery (photo 5 ) to the Cini Foundation, which restored it.
If you are interested in history, visiting the island of Torcello is a must. It is situated just next to Burano, in the very northeastern end of the lagoon, accessible by vaporetto line LN and changing boats in Burano.
Visiting this island will draw you back in the days of early lagoon settlement, as it was the centre and seat of the bishop until end of 12th century.
Basilica Santa Maria Assunta (photo 5), has been built in 640 and later on expanded. It is most famous for the very much splendid Byzantine mosaics of Maria and apostles and the Last Judgement. Next to her is Santa Fosca of 12th century (photo 4). This one is not as decorated inside, but has a very cheerful atmosphere inside, with little Byzantine or oriental lamps burning.
But the island has many more treasures. Opposite of the churches is a little house with a very much picturesque gaden with mossy statues (like in the main photo), and a small vineyard.
Go up the campanile for a magnificent view over this part of the lagoon and feel how very quiet the life here is. You can also visit the small museum, although I cannot judge, as I was already satisfied to look at all the stones, gravestones, pillars and capitals in the courtyard.
Admission fee for Basilica, museum and campanile are each 3 €. Combination tickets for two of them is 5,50 € and for all three 8,50 €. They open at 10:30 and close at 5:30 p.m. (last entry is at 5 p.m.)
A visit to Torcello can easily combined with a visit to Burano. But try and get there as early as possible, when it is still quiet and no squeaking kids are jumping around. Torcello seems to be quite popular for foreign school classes.
If you are planning to stay in Venezia for a couple of days, a visit to the laguna and the islands is a must. But even in one day it is not possible to see much of the islands. I recommend minimum 2 days or more, especially if you like wildlife watching.
Venezia’s laguna is a very fragile ecosystem, with countless smaller and bigger islands (see website below, and then lagoon of Venice/islands). The site says that the islands make up only for 8% of the laguna’s surface, so you can imagine how much is left for marshland, thus wildlife.
The most important islands to visit are definitely Murano (for the glass), Burano (for the colours), Torcello (for the very old past of the area) and San Michele (the city’s graveyard). But there are others, such as Sant’Erasmo (one of the laguna’s farm island), or San Lazaro degli Armeni (Mechitarist monastery), Lazaretto Nuovo (the former quarantine island for victims of pestilence), San Francesco del Deserto (a Franciscan monastery) and not to forget the outer islands like Lido and Pellestrina for sunbathing and swimming.
For wildlife lovers, the laguna is also a paradise ! I was amazed myself to see how abundant flora and fauna are. Check the website below – lagoon of Venice/fauna and vegetation.
At the moment, I can only tell about Murano, Torcello, Burano and San Michele (but will visit more on my next trips). If you like to know more about the other islands, check Sandy’s travel list. She has visited almost every island.
If only more countries would have such colourful graveyards as Italy – the deceased would be way more happy ! San Michele is no exception. The island was inhabited by Camaldolese monks until early 19th century. It is used as Venezia’s graveyard only since 1837, when the officials have decided to no longer risk possible contamination of the city’s drinking water. It is currently extended in the east.
The graveyard is divided into several section, according to the type of graves and the religious beliefs. Most of the island is coveres by “normal” graves with gravestones, flowers and very much elaborate statues. The typical Italian ones, as in the main photo and photo 2 are in the northeastern section. And it seems that the most popular graves to visit are the ones of Strawinsky and his wife and Ezra Pound. They are in the east as well, just follow the signs.
What I really liked on San Michele is that it seems “little Venezia” – so many building styles, ornaments and decoration are similar to the ones in Centro Storico, like the little chapels (one of them in photo 4, which I used to call “Miracoli style”), or Byzantine type mosaics for little mausoleums. The eastern grave sections also have many of these mossy statues – giving the whole a very much enchanted atmosphere.
I was there in the afternoon, but I imagine that all would be even more enchanted 1-2 hours before sunset.
Getting to San Michele is easy. Vaporettos with direction Murano leave from Fondamenta Nuove almost every 10-15 minutes.
Sandy has made a separate page for San Michele - see link below.
Torcello is the perfect antidote to glamorous Venice. There’s time for quiet contemplation, which too often nowadays can elude you in Serenissima.
The island was at one time one of the Byzantine Empire's most important markets in Western Europe with splendid buildings, churches and monasteries, but today just a handful of monuments survive and holds only 100 inhabitants.
One of these is the famous Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral with its Byzantine-Roman mosaics and its imposing bell tower, visible from all over the lagoon; it is open daily from 10 - 12.30am and from 2pm until 6.30 pm
Another important architecture is the Santa Fosca Church, which is surrounded by a five-sided portico built in the form of a Greek cross. Outside, in the garden, stands Atilla the Hun’s marble throne carved from a single piece of stone.
Another main attraction is taking lunch at the Cipriani restaurant, a favourite of Ernest Hemingway, who stayed here in 1948 while writing "Across the River and Into the Trees".
The restaurant Al Ponte del Diavolo offers an alternative for tourists with smaller budget. (tourist menu 25 €).
In the end when you leave back to Venice for your evening meal, take a moment, turn, and watch the buildings of the island melt into the lagoon.
Public transport: The vaporettos (LN route) depart from the Fondamenta Nuove stop in the Cannaregio section of Venice to Burano and then change to the T line to Torcello. The T line normally runs twice an hour in both directions during the day.
Torcello is the smallest and quietest of the three islands. It is also very green compared to the others.
From the mid 7th Century to the 13th Century, Torcello was at it's peak with around 20,000 inhabitants. Nowadays about 60 people live there. A succession of malaria epidemics significantly reduced the population.
There is a cathedral, a church and a bell tower to visit on the island.
I would recommend 1-2 hours here at least as there is around a 15 min walk to get to the main square.
The Lido is a kind of mainland barrier to protect Venice from the sea. It is situated in the lagoon of Venice and offers approximately 12 km of beach along the Adriatic Coast.
Apart from that, many nice old villas and prestigious hotels can be found here. Among them are the Art Nouveau Hungaria Palace Hotel or the 5 starred luxury Hotel Excelsior.
Venice consists of about 118 islands. The most famous of them seems to be Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, which is a main landmark of Venice.
Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore is home to a church, a monastery and a 70 m tall campanile (tower), which can be climbed for panoramic views of Venice.
The island of San Giorgio Maggiore belongs to the district of San Marco.
It is situated in the Bacino di San Marco, just in front of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square).
Quiet little island.... It's really open the wind blows really strong around here.
You get to see the range of snow cap mountains on the mainland which is very very breathtaking.
Here the buildings are built in Byzantine style. The chapel is nice. But i thought the entrance tickets to the church, bell tower and museum are a bit steep though. But i still went into the church and up the bell tower (campanile) coz i didn't go up the one in St. Mark's square.
This island faces St Mark's Square and has great views of it.
There is a church, a monastery and a bell tower to visit on the island. The monastery has actually been there since 982. The church was completed in 1610 by the architect Andrea Palladio.
There are innumerable sights that are left out from the program of most visitors in Venice.
Everybody walks out onto the waterfront being only few meters from San Marco and admires the silhouette of the church being located on the oposite island. But almost nobody get already there.
At the last stop of vaporetto before San Marco it is worthy to get out for half an hour.
This is that certain island, namely San Giorgio Maggiore. Its name sounds fabulously already, and so the ornament of the tiny island, the Benedictine monastery.
The church itself is worth the bypass; because two huge, five-metre paintings of Tintoretto decorate it. But the real experience is, to climb up into the campanile (there is an elevator for 3 €!) and from there to look across to San Marco.
The main square of uniquely beautiful Venice from here of the height, according to me, the most beautiful experience in the city. It is an extra reward only that we may arrive from the sea onto Saint Mark square by sailing over with the next vaporetto.
It is hard to imagine the beauty of the sun setting over the City of Venice and its pretty islands and lagoon.
I took this trip on September 21st 2006 and luckily it was a beautifully clear day and I enjoyed the best of it.
The motorboat left the dock which is situated between the Hotels Daniele and Gabrielli and quickly left the city behind. I made the mistake of taking a seat inside and watched the city disappear into the distance very quickly. I managaed to get outside to take a few sunset shots before the famous monuments became mere dots, but I wish I had been ready with the camera out on deck from the beginning.
From then on I moved from place to place around the boat taking shots of the sun setting on the water, the islands, the old shipyard, the Churches on the islands and other such lovely sights. As Dusk turned to dark the lights on top of the poles sunken into the lagoon start to twinkle into life and the entire setting is most romantic.
There was a running commentary by a very knowledgable guide but by this stage I was tired so I switched off and let most of it float over my head.
The cost of the hour long trip was just Euro 11.50 an my opinion is that it represents excellent value for money.