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After the downfall of the Roman Empire, Torcello was one of the first lagoon islands to be successively populated by those Veneti who fled the terra firma (mainland) to take shelter from the recurring barbarian invasions, especially after Attila the Hun had destroyed the city of Altinum and all of the surrounding settlements in 452. Although the hard-fought Veneto region formally belonged to the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna since the end of the Gothic War, it remained unsafe on account of frequent Germanic invasions and wars: During the following 200 years the Langobards and the Franks fuelled a permanent influx of sophisticated urban refugees to the island’s relative safety, including the Bishop of Altino himself. In 638 Torcello became the bishop’s official see for more than a thousand years and the people of Altinum brought with them the relics of Saint Heliodorus, now the patron saint of the island.

Torcello benefited from and maintaining close cultural and trading ties with Constantinople, after the fall of the western Roman Empire, but as a rather distant outpost of the Byzantine Empire it could establish de facto autonomy from the eastern capital.

Torcello rapidly grew in importance as a political and trading centre: In the 10th century it had a population of at least 10,000 people and was much more powerful than Venice. Thanks to the lagoon’s salt marshes, the salines became Torcello’s economic backbone and its harbour developed quickly into an important re-export market in the profitable east-west-trade, which was largely controlled by Byzantium during that period. Fortunately for the island of rivus altus (see Rialto), the lagoon around the island of Torcello gradually became a swamp from the 12th century onwards and Torcello’s heyday came to an end: Navigation in the laguna morta (dead lagoon) was impossible before long and the growing swamps seriously aggravated the malaria situation, so that the population abandoned the worthless island
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Additional Photos by dominic Portmann (portmanndominic) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 541 W: 5 N: 382] (2400)
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