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New secrets about Venice unveiled

Last Updated on July 25, 2020 by Francesca Bezzone

New secrets about Venice and its origins have been unveiled by exceptional findings made under the roof of Santa Maria Assunta basilica, in Torcello. While carrying out works in the attic area of the church, a team of archaeologists from the Università di Venezia, led by Diego Calaon, discovered frescoes dating back to the 9th century

This is important because it shows Venice had strategic and political relevance during Carolingian times and that its culture was influenced by Charlemagne’s people. Local lore, but also traditional historiography, tell us that Venice gained power under the Byzantines and never mentions its role in the Carolingian Empire.

Mosaic of the Last Judgment, in the basilica of Santa Maria Assunta. Photo: Ismoon/Wikicommons.

Professor Calaon has been working on Torcello for a number of years. As one of the lagoon’s first settlements, the island has an important role when it comes to tracing Venice’s early history. Recently, he has been dedicating time to the restoration of the mosaics and paintings of the basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, wanted by the Patriarchate of Venice and financed by the Save Venice association.

The basilica’s Byzantine mosaics, for which it’s famous. Photo: Remi Mathis/Wikicommons.

As noted by Cinzia del Maso, who wrote about the discovery for La Repubblica, conservation works were deemed necessary after the acqua alta of the past fall and winter months. While freeing from debris the area between the roof of the church and the mosaic vault, archaeologists discovered frescoes’ fragments, which they dated back to the times of Charlemagne, mostly in name of their style.

Indeed, Calaon explains, the frescoes have nothing to do with the hieratic, gold-laden style of Byzantium. What gave away their origin, however, was their inscriptions, written using a Carolingian script typical only of the Pianura Padana area in the 9th century.

The frescoes discovered date back to the 9th century, at the time of Charlemagne. Photo: Wikicommons

Further archaeological work allowed to understand the church was initially built and decorated in the 9th century, in a typically Carolingian style and revamped in the 11th, following Byzantine canons.

The story of the basilica of Torcello is, in fact, that of the whole city of Venice, which archaeology, Calaon concludes, has been helping to discover more and more about.

You can read the original article and see pictures on La Repubblica website.

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