The most significant discovery in the archeologists’ effort to reconstruct the lives of the first inhabitants of Torcello is a “wooden city” from the Early Middle Ages: a group of comfortable wooden houses that were probably built with a ground floor for craftwork, commerce and to deposit for goods and a top floor for domestic use. Archeologists date them between the 9th and the 12th century.
The houses were built facing canals on top of large platforms of clay to keep the houses above the level of the water and to provide thermal isolation. Waterways were the only means of reaching different parts of the city. Between one building and the next there were courtyards centered around Venetian wells that brought drinkable rain water to households in Torcello through a complex filtering system.
This archeological site on what used to be the Grand Canal of Torcello, studied alongside data accumulated in Ca’ Foscari’s 2012 study of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (also on Torcello), may bring historians to further reconsider accounts of the history of Venice and Torcello.
Archeologists are, as of 2017, investigating another porticoed building dating to the 7th century approximately. Archeologists think that the ancient structure may have been part of a system of warehouses, organized along a long pier, used to dock ships, unload cargo and store goods. Numerous discoveries of amphorae from Africa and other ports in the Mediterranean on the island support this hypothesis.
The findings at Torcello give historians a new perspective on the island’s role in Venetian history: new evidence unsettles traditional accounts of Torcello as the first settlement in the Venetian lagoon, inhabitated by survivors of the barbarian invasion of the nearby city of Altino as a more nuanced understanding of Early Medieval commerce, management of slave and salaried labour and changes in the climate suggests a more complex picture.
The collaborative research conducted at Torcello is as unique as the Island itself: archeologists, archeometrists and restorers work side by side to reconstruct the archeological history of the Island while evaluating the creation of a Sustainable Archeological Park where archeological findings would be explained in real time. Water, mud and wood are all the archeologists have to reconstruct the origins of the residential area and to understand its delicate ecological equilibrium.
The research project is funded by the EU as part of the Marie Curie “Voices of Venice” project and by Ca’ Foscari as part of the University’s funding for archeological activities. The site also welcomes researchers from the University of Stanford in California and the Department of Archeology of the University of Reading in the UK. The Archeological dig is made possible thanks to Ministerial concession and the dedication of the Municipality of Venice, that made the site available free of charge and promoted the study. The activities also benefit from the invaluable support of Torcello’s local cultural institutions: the Archelogical Museum of Torcello (Metropolitan City of Venice), the monumental complex of the basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (ecumenical patriarchate of Venice) and the Centre for Studies on Torcello. The most important recognition for the archeologists hard work, however, is the support and enthusiasm of the island’s residents.
Last update: 04/02/2019