Mazzorbo is one of the quieter inhabited islands of the Venetian lagoon. It’s a peaceful little backwater, joined to its more famous neighbour Burano by a long footbridge. Together with nearby Torcello they make a good island excursion from Venice.
Hopping off the ferry at Mazzorbo’s only public transport stop, you’ll find yourself at once in a different, peaceful world (more about travel to Mazzorbo). The ferry stops on the banks of a wide canal with no method of crossing other than by boat. From the far banks a couple of intriguing crumbled buildings preside over the rural scene. Fishing nets and boats are drawn up by the wide path on the more inhabited shore. Walking back down in the direction the ferry arrived from Venice you’ll pass a mixture of buildings from comfortably lived-in houses with flowers on the window sill to atmospheric old stores and villas. This is a very sleepy island, with stretches of cultivated land dividing the scattered housing – a very different world to the city bustle of Venice or the busy little lanes of Burano. Like Torcello, Mazzorbo was once more important and more populated than it is now. Following the path around to the left, you’ll find a smaller canal which perhaps, once upon a time, was a busy high street. It leads along to Mazzorbo’s historic church, the only specific tourist attraction on Mazzorbo, and thoroughly worthy of a visit.
The Chiesa di Santa Caterina was originally built in the eighth century, and was later part of a Benedictine convent. The church was restructured in the fourteenth century, with Romanesque and Gothic touches, and changed again two centuries later before falling into what the information board calls ‘unrestrainable decay’. The last two hundred years have seen some restorations but the church still has a quietly ancient atmosphere. The brick walls are buckled and the fine coloured marble floor (1580) is worn with age. There is one wide nave, topped by a wooden ships-keel ceiling with painted decoration. A fine faded fresco can be seen above the wooden-screened balcony, and other ornamental details date to different eras of the church’s history. More scraps of stone carvings decorate the pretty portico entrance. Look out for the fantastic old confessional box of elaborately carved-wood. The bell in the campanile is said to be the oldest in the lagoon, dating to 1318. The church’s theoretical opening times are April-September Friday-Sunday 11am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. However we visited on a weekday in March and found Santa Caterina open for visitors.
Retracing your steps for a short distance along the canal, you’ll find a path leading off between houses to the right. This continues along the shore towards Burano, past the islands’ cemetery. Locals are likely to sail past you on bicycles, Mazzorbo’s preferred mode of transport (like the other islands it is car-free). As you approach the footbridge to the island of Burano, architecture enthusiasts will note a modern housing development on the left. This was designed by architect Giancarlo De Carlo and is an interesting attempt to continue the lagoon traditions, styles and layouts in a modern vernacular. Tourists can either continue on to the busier lanes of Burano, or detour around the northern shores of Mazzorbo, where buildings include a rather aged old palazzo.
Travel to Mazzorbo
If you are planning a trip to the northern lagoon to visit Burano and Torcello, Mazzorbo makes a nice extra excursion. The easiest way to reach the northern islands from Venice is to take the LN (Laguna Nord) ferry from the Fondamente Nuove stop on Venice’s northern shore (there are several different ferry stops so make sure you have the right one). This operates every 30 minutes, and the journey from Venice to Mazzorbo takes 34 minutes. Travellers can get off the ferry at Mazzorbo, see the island and visit the church, and continue on foot over the bridge to Burano. In warmer weather we’d advise wearing insect repellent as the combination of lagoon and vegetation makes prime mosquito habitat.
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