The oldest frescoes in Venice and the Venetian Lagoon are found on the island of Torcello

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Restoration work in the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta

In the Romanesque Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (Assumption of the Virgin Mary) on the island of Torcello, famous for its well-preserved Byzantine mosaics of the 11th – 12th centuries, fragments of frescoes dating from the 9th – 10th centuries have been discovered. They were located high under the roof, on the walls and under the arches, hidden by masonry back in the Middle Ages, and no one even suspected their existence. One fragment of the fresco depicts the Virgin Mary with a maid, another – a scene from the life of St. Martin. The images include explanatory texts in fonts typical of the early Middle Ages.

The oldest frescoes in Venice and the Venetian Lagoon are found on the island of Torcello
Fragment of the fresco Virgin Mary with a maid

Now, together with archaeologists and art historians, they are being studied by paleographers from the Venetian Ca’Foscari University. Experts are sure that these frescoes, as well as other findings and results of the study of the walls and grounds of the basilica inside and outside, provide valuable information about the history of the construction of the temple, the internal structure and dimensions of which changed more than once during the 7th-11th centuries. So, during excavations to determine different temporal layers next to the Baroque altar near the sacristy, two magnificent sculptural fragments of the 9th century were discovered, which can give an idea of ​​the architectural decor and how the altar niche looked in that era.

The oldest frescoes in Venice and the Venetian Lagoon are found on the island of Torcello
Northwest facade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta

Archaeological research and restoration work in the basilica has been carried out since 2019 under the auspices of the General Directorate for the Protection of the Cultural and Archaeological Heritage of Venice and with financial support from the non-governmental organization Save Venice.

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