The islands of the lagoon are about forty and are classified as follows:
– major islands, the largest ones and permanently inhabited by a number of people more or less high, as Burano, Sant’erasmo, Torcello and Murano which is the most populated island
– the smaller islands, some of which have already recovered and reused (eg La Certosa, the New Lazaretto, etc..), Others are in the process of recovery after abandoned after the World War II (eg in San Giacomo in Palude), and others in degradation and able to disappear (eg Madonna del Monte, Sant’Arian), one destined always to Franciscan hermitage (San Francesco del Deserto).
Murano has ever been the centre of Venetian glassmaking. While the knowledge about glassmaking disappeared after the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe, resourceful Venetian merchants brought this know-how from the Byzantine Empire back to the lagoon city. So Venice rose to become the cradle of European glass production and was able to sell its glass products throughout Europe profitably. In the 18th century Venice had to give up its dominant position in glass production and the importance of Murano declined until the emergence of tourism.
If you walk along the two main channels on arrival, you will pass one glass factory or glass shop after the other. Even today, Murano lives primarily from the production of glass, which attracts numerous tourists. There is a glass museum in the Palazzo Giustiniani. Here you can see one of the largest collections of Venetian glass and learn about the history of glass production since Roman times. In the church of San Pietro Martire you can admire “Madonna Enthroned” by Giovanni Bellini, as well as some paintings by Veronese. In addition to the glass, Murano’s main attraction and one of the oldest churches in the entire lagoon is the Basilica di Santi Maria e Donato. It originates from the 7th century and inspires visitors with its beautiful exterior combining Venetian, Byzantine and early Romanesque elements. The beautiful mosaic floor, which runs through the three-nave interior of the church, seems almost like an oriental rug with lots of figures of animals and colourful shapes. Also worthy of note are the high Mother of God in the choral conch and the relics of St. Donatus on the altar. The painted relief icon of St. Donatus is one of the oldest examples of Venetian painting.
Pellestrina is a thin barrier of more than 11 km suspended between sea and lagoon , protected from the water by one of the most powerful defenses in the sea that the Serenissima was able to realize to save the city: Murazzi. Artificial cliff l towards the lagoon and dripping towards the Adriatic, was built with blocks of Istrian stone worked in coarse form for a distance of about twenty kilometers between those coasts which are the natural defense of the artistic, cultural and economic development that has its heart in Venice. Here, everything refers to the most popular Venice. From “sestieri” to the eternal ritual of spritz, the local aperitif with white wine splashed Aperol or Campari. From the maze of calli, sotoporteghi e campielli to the “ciacolar” (chatting) of fishermen at Bar Perla. A small Venice, the most bound to the tradition and to that ancient dimension, the relaxed rhythms that follow the natural course of the day and the seasons. An authentic view of the history of the lagoon.
Burano and Mazzorbo
Burano is, without doubt, the most picturesque island in the lagoon. Colourfully painted, the little houses on the island line up next to each other and form a truly picturesque townscape. According to legend, the colours were used to show returning fishermen the way in the fog. The fishing boats are also brightly painted and, together with the houses, are reflected in the water. The leaning campanile of the church of San Martino fits perfectly into this townscape. There is also a crucifixion painting by Tiepolo. So if you have a little time while in Venice, you should not miss out the 40-minute ride to the idyllic Burano – the trip is worth it in any case.
Burano is famous today mainly because of its lace. You can admire lacework in many window displays and, of course, buy it as well. But watch out: Really cheap laceworks are mostly imitations from the Far East and not made in Burano. In this context, it is also worth visiting the small museum of Scuola del Merletto, where you can learn all about the art of lace and lace-making.
A wooden bridge connects Bruano to Mazzorbo, a small island where there were rich and noble villas and monasteries and now occupied by vineyards and farmland in orchards. Do not miss here the beautiful Church of St. Catherine, build in the fourteenth century, a hidden treasure in Romanesque-Gothic style, and the public park in the old cemetery surrounded by historic walls, designed to protect from the wind and the sea.
Torcello is located on south-west of the canal of Burano while in the north-east borders the marsh formations of the Rose and Centrega. Quiet and wild, almost uninhabited, is home to one of the oldest human settlements in the area, having been founded between the fifth and sixth centuries. The true masterpiece of the lagoon is located here: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, renovated in its current form during the eleventh century. The magnificent Byzantine-inspired mosaics are a must in the light of the morning sun. Overlooking the basilica there is the so-called Throne of Attila. The Devil’s Bridge, located in the access channel, has retained its original shape without parapets.
Sanit Erasmo and Vignole
Saint Erasmo e Vignole are known as the vegetable garden of Venice.
Saint Erasmo is in the northern part of the lagoon. Up until the end of the 1800s it was a real seaside residence in close proximity with the Adriatic Sea. Piers were then built that caused channels and the current deposited dune like accumulations of sand. This led to the creation of Punta Sabbioni – which is a sort of peninsular town now blocking access from the island to the sea. It was once known as Alba or Mercede and had fertile terrains perfect for growing vegetables and large pine trees.
The Vignole, as it is known, is found in the cental part of the lagoon. It is a wedge shaped bit of sandy land between S. Erasmo and Lido. It was once called Biniola, or also “delle sette vigne” ‘of the seven vines’ and it was one of the elite holiday destinations for residents of Altino before those of Venice became popular.
According to the poet Marziale, the magnificence of its residences were superior to those of Pozzuoli. Here you can go to the discovery of the remains of the ancient church of St. Erosia or military fortifications still present in front of St. Erasmus, evidence of the defensive function of the island at the time of the Serenissima.
Lazzaretto Nuovo is centrally placed in the lagoon. It was strategic in that it was close to St Erasmo and at the time was at the mouth of lagoon port. Like the islands of Poveglia and S. Clemente, it was a stop off, even in Roman times for the Fossa Popilia, which linekd Chioggia to Altino. From 1468 the island took its name from the saint because it became a quarantine station for people suspected to be plague infected and therefore carriers.
It was abandoned for a time and was then used by the Ekos Club Association and the Venice Airclub (Archeoclub Venezia). Area of great historical interest and natural Lazaretto Nuovo is one of the few uninhabited islands available to visited tours, after years of restoration that have ensured the recovery. We recommend a scenic walk along the city walls, which takes place for about a mile around the island, offering points of natural interest and a 360 degree view over the lagoon in front of Venice. Inside the walls, you can continue your walk along the avenues bordered by mulberry trees and around the wellheads, surrounded by ash trees and poplars. From here it is not rare to see gulls, egrets, herons and cormorants, and some specimens of kingfishers, hawks and owls that frequent the surrounding areas.
The Certosa is only 250 metres from the Venetian district of St Pietro di Castello, not much more than 500 metres from Lido and is closet to the Vignole Island and the military fort called Forte di Sant’Andrea.
Its name comes from the Certosini Fathers from Florence who settled it in 1424. It was abandoned for years. It is now an example of combined forces, financed by the European Community, Legge Speciale and the Venice City Council. A park has been created and a nautical centre called Vento di Venice and the very newly established Institute of European Design. The project of the Park of the Certosa is the natural result of the recovery of the entire island as a container in which activities and landscapes different from each other can live together synergistically. The project involves the complete recovery of the island for the creation of a park open to the public and free of architectural barriers, with the creation of areas and routes equipped and conservation of the natural heritage. The target of some areas will allow the recovery of horticultural and viticultural traditions of the island, through the cultivation of vines. The ancient ruins of the XV century Carthusian cloister will be enhanced through the creation of facilities for cultural activities and training.
San Francesco del Deserto
In the Venice lagoon near Burano and Torcello, there is the small island of San Francesco del Deserto, rich in history and spirituality, a tuft of green emerging from the water. On the island live the Friars Minor since 1230. Tradition holds that St. Francis will be passed there in 1220. Oasis of peace and mysticism, the island is presented with its unmistakable profile of cypress trees. The foundation of the hermitage traditionally coincides with the stay in the lagoon in 1220 by St. Francis of Assisi return from Egypt, but there are still many doubts as to the accuracy on a possible active role of St. Francis in creation of the settlement. The name of San Francesco del Deserto stems from the fact that a couple of centuries after the establishment of the Franciscan friars, the deterioration of the island led them to abandon it and then return to it in 1453.
San Lazzaro degli Armeni
San Lazzaro of the Armeni is a little isalnd in the southern lagoon. It is the home of the Mekhitaristi Order and one of the first centres in the world of Armenian culture. In 1717, the Senate gives the island to Fathers Armenian Mekhitarist persecuted by the Turks and the island completes its name to the current one. Mechitar Order realize projects of renovation and construction of the church and the convent. San Lazzaro then becomes a printing press for the texts in oriental languages. During the 800 and 900 some drainage works and maintenance of the area give it its current appearance. Lord Byron studied the language on the island in 1816 taking advantage of its long history of hospitality. He records his love of the famous Vartanush, a jam made from rose petals that the monks produced from the rose gardens and still do to this day.
The small offshore island of San Michele is situated in the east of Venice between the lagoon city and Murano. It was inhabited in the 13th century by Camaldolese monks who built a monastery with a church and a cloister. From 1835 onwards, San Michele has been used as a cemetery. The tightly packed graves give a good impression of the social structure of Venice. The composer Igor Stravinsky and the poet Ezra Pound number among the most famous luminaries buried here. Due to lack of space and the very high fees, most Venetians are buried nowadays on the mainland. Only famous or well off Venetians are still buried here.
In addition to the tombs, it is worth seeing the beautiful Renaissance church of San Michele. It was built in the 15th century by Mauro Coducci. The beautiful Gothic cloister of the monastery has also been preserved.
Located between the Giudecca and the Lido, the island of San Clemente was for many centuries the seat of the friars Camaldonesi of Monte Corona, as well as a place of hospitality for pilgrims to the Holy Land. The order had a thriving development until 1600, but in the nineteenth century the order was suppressed and the island slowly slipped into oblivion. After years of abandon, an intervention of restoration and renovation has brought new life to the island. Today the island is home to the San Clemente Palace Hotel, a luxury hotel that occupies the entire ancient complex, a series of buildings built in different eras and articulated around the central body.
San Servolo is situated right in the central lagoon near St Mark’s. It has a thousand year history. It was first settled at the end of 600 and it is one of the few to have a history of its own.
The Venetian province has done much to regenerate San Servolo. Today it is the Headquarters for an International University, has a congress centre, a museum and a full programme of events from art to photography to music, cinema, literature and theatre.
San Giorgio Maggiore
The small island in front of Piazza San Marco. The island of San Giorgio Maggiore, also called Memmia since belonged to the powerful patrician family Memmo until the X century, was originally populated by gardens , mills and salt . It owes its name to the main building of a church dedicated to St. George ( 790 ). In 982 the doge Tribune Memmo decided to donate it to the Benedictine monaco Giovanni Morosini who became the first abbot of the monastery built following the reclamation of certain land near the church. The Abbey of San Giorgio soon assumed a vital role in the cultural and religious landscape of the city and the island slowly changed his face enriched with new buildings.
In the course of ‘500 , the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore assumed its present appearance by the great architect Andrea Palladio, who designed a monumental building , marked with a classical facade of inspiration . Palladio built also the cloister and the refectory where is the large painting The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese. In XVI century new works by architect Longhena raised further the artistic content of the island of San Giorgio Maggior : the grand staircase ( 1643), a new facade of the monastery (1652 ), the novitiate (1657 ), the infirmary ( 1677 ) and the guest room ( 1680).The came of Napoleon Bonapate stopped this trend. He went to Italy at the end of 700 and devoted himself conscientiously to spoliare the art treasures of Venice. St. George was not immune to this “French disease” missing in a few years many of the masterpieces that kept including the large painting of the Wedding at Cana by Veronese, now on display at the Louvre. Following the revolutionary movements of 1848 the Austrians decided to turn the island into a military garrison , a function that remained even after the expulsion of the Austrians and the Unification of Italy in Venice (21 October 1866) , but soon the island fell into a state of severe degradation interrupted only by the new owners, family Cini, who realize a project of philological restoration of the ancient Benedictine monastery and destined eventually to host the headquarters of the Fondazione Cini .
In 1954 , following an environmental remediation , was inaugurated the Teatro Verde , which still hosts events and art exhibitions . Cini Foundation opened also a Centre of Culture and Civilization, an arts and crafts center and a watersports center.
San Giacomo in Palude
San Giacomo in Palude is situated centrally in the lagoon, north east of Murano.
Recent archaeological finds confirm the islands late medieval orgins. In the summer of 1975, after some years of desertion, Venice’s Biennale art and architectural exhibition, used one of the old military warehouses to present theatre. San Giacomo in Palude si trova nella laguna centrale a nord-est di Murano.
Poveglia can be found in the southern part of the lagoon in front of Lido’s Malamocco district.a Malamocco. After Longobardo invasions in the 6th century and the destruction of Padua, Popilia (or Poveglia) was populated by refugees from the mainland and became one of the first settled islands. It was further settled during the Battle of Chioggia because it was a good defensive post. It was abandoned during the last century and is now undergoing modifications.