Isola di Mazzorbo, about 10 kilometres NE of Venice; is connected by a wooden pedestrian bridge to Burano and is its sixth “sestiere”.

Both islands have approximately the same size of about 0.2 km², but otherwise, the two islands are very different. Burano, the island of the colourful houses, fishermen and lace; is very densely populated with few green spaces, more canals, narrow alleys and about 3,000 inhabitants.

Mazzorbo, across the 60 metre wooden foot-bridge; is by complete contrast rural and has only about 300 inhabitants. Here you can find some things for which there is no place in Burano – allotment gardens and vineyards, a park, a playground for children, a cemetery serving both islands and even a Michelin starred restaurant!

 


 

Note the long wooden bridge between Burano and Mazzorbo and the population difference, between the two islands.

 

INTRODUCTION

Like the other islands in this northern part of the lagoon, it was the site of one of the earliest settlements in the lagoon; with Torcello as the main commercial and trading centre; predating the development of Venice. However, many of these islands then declined for a variety of reasons and were eventually depopulated. People moved to the rapidly developing Venice for economic and security reasons, many islands’ channel systems silted up making them unnavigable, the ensuing spread of malaria and also rising sea-water levels.

In the 1980’s, the architect Giancarlo De Carlo built a brightly coloured residential neighbourhood, to help to repopulate Mazzorbo. In 2019 its population was 256.

It is linked to Burano by a wooden bridge – the “Ponte Longo“. It was once an important trading centre, but is now known for its vineyards, vegetable growing and orchards. Its main attraction is the 14th century church of Santa Caterina and perhaps the Michelin starred restaurant of the “Venissa” Resort Complex.

 

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

For information on how to get to Mazzorbo you should visit the ACTV vaporetto map pdf, to print out or see on your phone below:

https://www.venice.nu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/mappa_linee_di_navigazione-_15_03_2021-1.pdf

In fact, the route to reach Mazzorbo from Venice, Murano, Treporti, Punta Sabbioni or Venice Lido; is the same that you undertake to visit Burano.

From Venice, the easiest suggestion is to get to the vaporetto stop at Fondamente Nuove, on the north coast. The most direct way is by Line 12 to Mazzorbo, Burano and Torcello. Otherwise go to Murano and change there. Ferries are frequent and the journey from Venice – Fondamente Nuove to Mazzorbo, takes about 35 minutes.

 

Photo above: The vaporetto stop on Mazzorbo, is on the north coast by the Trattoria alla Maddelena and close to the Venissa resort complex.

 

A popular away-day from Venice, is to get off the ferry at Mazzorbo, see the island and the Santa Caterina church and continue on foot over the bridge to Burano and then on to Torcello. Three very contrasting islands.

Currently there doesn’t seem to be any excursion to Mazzorbo island, as it is easily reachable on foot from Burano Island. You can walk to any point on each island, within 10-15 minutes.

Many locals on Mazzorbo are cyclists. There are no roads – cars, motorbikes and mopeds are not allowed.

But from Mazzorbo, you can go for a boat excursion to San Francesco island; an oasis of peace and tranquillity close by and inhabited exclusively by monks.

In warmer weather, it’s advisable to use insect repellent, as the combination of lagoon and lush vegetation; makes a prime mosquito habitat.

 

GEOGRAPHY

Mazzorbo is part of a group of four islands.

To its west, is the island of Santa Caterina to which Mazzorbo, is separated by the Santa Caterina channel and connected by two bridges.

The Santa Caterina island was further split into two in 1928, when the “Santa Margherita canal” was dug: an extension of the “Canale di Mazzorbo”. This connected Mazzorbo’s northern shore, to the “Canale Scomerzera San Giacomo”.

To the north is Mazzorbetto, which is separated by the some-60 m wide Canale di Mazzorbo channel; with Mazzorbos’ only vaporetto stop. Although in Italian Mazzorbetto translates to “little Mazzorbo,” it is actually, the largest island of the group.

Mazzorbetto is even more sparsely populated. The island is only about 50 meters away from Mazzorbo across a canal; however, there is neither a bridge nor public ferries. Thus the island is inaccessible for most tourists; although you can see the island from Mazzorbo and the water buses.

The island looks even greener with many trees; but only has about 10 inhabitants. Apparently, you can still find the gothic villa, once the property of Giacomo Casanova.

Left: The 60 metre wooden pedestrian bridge, between Burano and Mazzorbo.

 

 

ORIGINS OF THE ISLANDS NAME

There are several theories as to the name of the island.

In the past, Mazzorbo was variously called “Maioribus” or “Maiorbo”, “Maiorbenses”  or “Maiurbo”.

Jacopo Filiasi, an early 19th century historian, argued that the origin of the name Mazzorbo was the Latin term Major Urbs, Major Urbi, and Majurbium, (Great or Major Town). This settlement was the largest town in the whole of Byzantine “Venezia Marittima”, the coastal area of north-eastern Italy, which was under the Byzantines in the 6th century.

However, many historians have shown that Mazzorbo was never mentioned in the ancient and medieval chronicles; therefore, this hypothesis seems unlikely. On the basis, Cristoforo Tentori Spagnuolo, another early 19th century historian; argued that the origin of the name Mazzorbo was Medium Urbis, (“Town in Between” or “Town in the Middle” of other towns).

A Roman stone inscription which was discovered in the 19th century, the “Epigrafe Torcellana” (Torcello Epigraph); commemorates a donation to the town of Altinum by Tiberius Claudius Nero, who during his consulate (13-14 BCE) built temples, porticos and gardens.

It describes the town, its districts and gates and mentions the “Maedium Urbis” gate. The inscription  on this gate, was in the northeast of the town. This name also appears in other sources, where it is sometimes written as “Medium Urbium” or “Mediurbium”.

According to Simone Menegaldo, the refugees from Altinum gave this name to this island, because it was in between the other islands that they had settled of Burano, Torcello and Costanziaco, .

 

HISTORY OF LOST CHURCHES OR MONASTERIES 

San Pietro Parish Church.

The only archival document relating to the parish church of San Pietro is dated to 1207. It was probably Mazzorbo’s main church; however, the date of its construction is not known. It seems that it was built with materials from Altinum and thus could be dated to the 7th-8th century.

Tradition notes its beauty and the marble columns of its portico; with claims that St. Francis and St. Antony preached here. Over the main altar there was a panel with “St. Peter and St. Paul” by Pietro Ricchi and over the St. Margaret altar, there was the “Madonna, St. Bartholomew and St. Margaret” panel, by Francesco Ruschi.

A gilded silver altarpiece was put at the bottom of a large crucifix, in front of the main chapel; which shared the nave of the presbytery, with an iconostasis with the twelve apostles. It was probably a type of 12th century Venetian goldsmith work, inspired by Byzantine iconographic elements. It was made of gilded silver tiles, nailed to wooden panels with sacred images; which represented the Madonna, the Saints and Christ the Saviour.

From the 14th century, Mazzorbo underwent a period of slow decline and became depopulated. San Pietro became impoverished and attempts were made to raise money.

With the dissolution of churches and monasteries, ordered during Napoleon’s occupation of Venice; the derelict church was demolished. Now there is only a plot of land, which belongs to the current parish church of Santa Caterina. The precious altarpiece has been lost.

 

San Bartolomeo Parish Church.

In the eastern part of Mazzorbo, there was another very old parish church; dedicated to St. Bartholomew. There are no documents regarding its foundation.

Flaminio Corner wrote that it was dissolved in the 17th century; because it was no longer able to sustain itself and was merged with the San Pietro parish church.

It was later replaced by an oratory at the edge of the parish. In 1775, the bishop of Torcello described it as an oratory with a chaplain. Zanetti noted, that there was a Saint Bernard panel by Antonio Zanchi. The oratory was demolished in 1830. A document in the Mazzorbo parish archive; notes that the materials from its demolition, fetched 203 liras.

Left: Old print of the Canale di Mazzorbo

 

 

San Matteo Monastery.

In 1218, the bishop of Torcello donated a very old church dedicated to St Mathew; to three Benedictine nuns on the island of Costanziaco. This island became uninhabitable, due to environmental degradation caused by floods breaking the banks of the island, damaging buildings, cultivated land and the spread of malaria.

The nuns were moved to Mazzorbo, on the Santa Caterina island; opposite the San Pietro church, on the other side of the canal. Construction of the new monastery, began in 1298.

The 14th and 15th centuries, saw disputes. In 1341, the nuns asked to be put under the jurisdiction of the abbot of Piacenza; due to disagreements with their superior. The Patriarchs of Constantinople and of Grado, were drawn into this dispute. However, the issue was resolved by Pope Paul II (1464–71); who had the nuns submit to the Patriarch of Venice, in 1464.

In 1521, under Pope Leo X’s rule (1513–21), because of minor disciplinary transgressions; fifty nuns of S. Matteo were sent to join the five remaining nuns of the old Benedictine Monastery of Santa Margherita, on the island of Torcello.

In 1806, during the Napoleonic dissolution of Venetian churches and monasteries, San Matteo was also demolished. There were  said to be many paintings and sculptures in this monastery – 92 paintings and 12 terracotta and wooden sculptures were catalogued. They all have been lost.

On the grounds of this monastery a century later, the Santa Margherita canal was dug; making a better connection between the Scomerzera San Giacomo and Mazzorbo canals. It was opened in 1928.

In the convent’s church there were four panels by Matteo Ingoli: “St Helen kneeling with the cross with four putti in the air”, “The visit of St. Elizabeth”, “St. Jerome, St. Charles and a blessed abbess” and “St. Margaret and her ascent”.

Above the main altar, there was a panel with various saints, a nun and the map of the monastery; possibly originally attributed to the Vivarini school. Modern art historians however, attribute it to Giovanni Mansueti. Today, it is kept in Venetian collection of the heirs of the painter, Italico Brass.

 

Santa Eufemia Monastery

Bernardino Scardeonio’s “History of Paduan Antiquity” tells that Margherita, a Paduan noblewoman; withdrew to Mazzorbo with three noble maidens and founded this monastery.

It also records that in 1439, the bishop of Torcello sent the Benedictine nuns of the Sant Angelo monastery on the island of Ammiana, to join this monastery. Their numbers had been reduced to three; due to environmental degradation and depopulation of that island.

In 1768, the senate of the Republic of Venice dissolved the monastery and its church and the buildings were subsequently used for military purposes. In the early 19th century, a fort was built here; but there is no trace of it today.

In Murano there is a well curb, which used to be in the courtyard of the monastery. It has this inscription: “IN TEMPO DELLA R.M. SUOR SCOLASTICA PISANI DIG.MA ABBAD. / PUTEUS ACQUAR VIVENTIUMQUAE / FLUUNT IMPETU DE LIBANO / MDLXXXVIII DIE X DECEM

 

HISTORY OF SANTA CATERINA – MAZZORBO’S ONLY SURVIVING CHURCH

According to a 1715 chronicle by Bernardo Trevisan, a Venetian nobleman; Santa Caterina was built in 783.

It was rebuilt between 1283 and 1291 and annexed to a Benedictine nun convent, situated behind the church with the same name.

The bell tower was built in the early 14th century and has the oldest preserved bell in the lagoon; dating back to 1318.

The church’s earliest mention is in the acts of a parish synod, convened by the bishop of Torcello in 1374. The oldest archival document, is a 1398 pledge by the abbess of loyalty to the bishop of Torcello.

The 14th century, brought hardship to the nuns. Attempts to raise income, was not enough and their numbers decreased.

In 1432, the revenues of the monastery of Santa Maria della Gaiada on the Tumba della Gaiada island (which was part of the settlement of Ammiana); were incorporated into those of Santa Caterina. In 1492, the dissolved Benedictine monastery of San Nicolo; was merged with Santa Caterina.

 

 

 

 

The complex was restored in 1712 by Pietro Tabacco, a nobleman who in the same period founded the Madonna del Rosario church on the island of Madonna del Monte; located towards Murano. To provide further aid, the Bishop of Torcello merged Santa Caterina with Santa Maria della Gaiada monastery, which had been abandoned.

The church has a unique aisle, with a ceiling which resembles the hull of a ship; dating to the 15th century and a nun’s gallery. A painting of “The Baptism of St Catherine and St Mary Magdalene” by Giuseppe Salviati over the high altar.

 

Above: Ascan Lutteroth “Mazzorbo bei Venedig”, with Santa Caterina in the centre ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above the entrance door, (above left) there is a sculptured marble lunette with the “Mystical wedding of Saint Katherine and two Donors.” Christ is sitting on a throne holding in his left hand, an open book which reads: “EGO SUM LUS MUNDI”.

With his right hand, he puts a ring on the finger of a kneeling St. Katherine.

Lost Art. Veronese’s “Santa Caterina di Mazzorbo altarpiece” (above right) is now in the Pitti Palace in Florence.  It shows Saint Benedict, his pupils Maurus and Placidus and his sister Scholastica with more nuns, and the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine happening in the sky.

Major restoration work in1920-25, altered the original structure. Further restoration work in 2002, re-established the original bricked wall.

 

MAZZORBO TODAY

Mazzorbo today, is a sparsely populated island devoted mainly to agriculture, with vegetable growing (especially artichokes), fruit orchards and vineyards.  Sparsely populated Mazzorbetto and Santa Caterina, are also devoted to agriculture.

The churchy of Santa Caterina and what little remains of its monastery, is probably the islands most historic remaining tourist attraction.

Even with 350 people plus tourists, mostly visiting in summer; its importance for the neighbouring population is vital. Apart from its historic remaining church, the island has a modern sporting centre, a playground for the kids and the local cemetery, all serving Burano as well.

Wine is another important tradition of this island. To discover the agricultural tradition, take a walk on the Venissa Estate; situated at the eastern end of Mazzorbo, by the bridge which connects it to Burano.

It’s famous for its “Dorona” variety of grape; a Venetian autochthonous grape, re-established by the “Bisol” family.

In 2006, it was opened to the public and has information about the history of local agriculture. Inside the estate, there are also nine gardens cultivated by local elders; who supply its “Osteria Contemporanea” and the Michelin starred “Venissa Restaurant”. The estate can be visited free of charge.

An excellent idea, is to get off at the Mazzorbo stop and reach Burano by crossing the vineyard (5 minutes on foot).

Two other good restaurants are found along the north coast pathway, just west of the vaporetto stop: the “Trattoria alla Maddalena” and the “Trattoria ai Cacciatori”.

Giancarlo De Carlo, was an architect who belonged to a new generation of architects who wanted to develop a new type of architecture. One which was better suited to local social and environmental conditions and where man “is not reduced to an abstract figure“. He theorised a more democratic and open “participatory architecture“.

In 1979, he built a brightly painted housing neighbourhood (photo left); to help to repopulate the island.

A country fair is held every summer, in the churchyard of Santa Caterina; where you can taste delicious local dishes such as “Luganega e Costesine” (sausages and ribs), “roasted Polenta“, drink local wine and enjoy music and games.

 

 

VENISSA – WINE RESORT 

Below, is information taken from its website, slightly edited.

The Venissa Wine Resort, offers an abundance of options for travellers looking for a unique and entirely off-the-beaten-track experience. The estate’s charming 6-room guesthouse “Casa Burano”, is the epitome of laid-back, minimalist elegance.

Located on the bottom floor of the guesthouse is a casual osteria serving delicious local fare, while across the grounds is Venissa’s Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant, which has become a sought-after destination for local and international foodies; thanks to the chefs’ creative and innovative dishes using local ingredients many of which come from the estate’s beautiful heirloom garden.

Left: “Venissa Wine Resort”, middle right and Giancarlo De Carlo’s modern housing estate, at middle left.  The 60 metre wooden bridge to Burano, lower left.

 

There is also a fascinating walled vineyard on the property.  In fact, Venissa is best known for the white wine it produces from the Dorona varietal, native to the Venetian Lagoon, but long forgotten, until Gianluca Bisol, Venissa’s owner; discovered and planted an abandoned vine on Mazzorbo, nearly fifteen years ago.

In addition to tours of the vineyard and guided wine tastings, visitors to Venissa have the rare opportunity to completely immerse themselves into Venetian Lagoon culture; by way of boating excursions, rowing lessons with the Rowing Club of Burano, photography exhibitions, and private tours of largely undiscovered sites, on the most ancient islands of the Venetian Lagoon”

VENISSA

Fondamenta S. Caterina, 3
30142 Mazzorbo Venezia – Italy
Tel: +39 041 52 72 281     Email: info@venissa.it      Website: https://www.venissa.it/ 

 

*****Please see my other posts in the series “Islands of the Lagoon”: HERE

 

Isola di Mazzorbo    Isola di Mazzorbo    Isola di Mazzorbo    Isola di Mazzorbo

Isola di Mazzorbo    Isola di Mazzorbo    Isola di Mazzorbo    Isola di Mazzorbo

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