...and from the belltower, "Mother and Daughter, you behold them, both in their widowhood, Torcello and Venice"
J. Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, 1851
Torcello symbolizes the mythic birthplace of Venice. It represents the physical space where Venetian collective memory started. Torcello Island rests quietly in the northern Venetian Lagoon. Today it is almost deserted, and it has a permanent residential population of just 15 inhabitants. Tourists and Venetians consider it a wonder, a refuge for a quick escape from the crowds in Venice. But, what was Torcello? What does it represent today.
Torcello in the Early Middle Ages was a large harbor, a nodal point in the trade system between the East Mediterranean and Europe. After the 11th century, the island was progressively abandoned and trade activities were gradually moved to Venice. From that point on, the island became a symbol of Venice’s birth. Historians transformed Torcello into the material site where the myth of Venice started.
We need to once again climb to the top of the Torcello bell tower, to have a look at the panorama, to try to follow an alternative path for alternative histories. As the Venetians did in the past, we can build up our contemporary interpretation. Old myths, new data, and alternative histories: the origin of Venice can be rewritten again and again, addressed to a contemporary public, probably less interested in chronologies, wars, and hierarchical issues, but keen on the environment, use of spaces, and social structures. A large part of the Venetian contemporary public, also, is not using the past only as a cultural reference, but is marketing it in a very particular way.