Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta

Top choice church in Murano, Burano & the Northern Islands

Life choices are presented in no uncertain terms in the dazzling mosaics of this former cathedral. Look ahead to a golden afterlife amid saints and a beatific Madonna, or turn your back on her and face the wrath of the devil gloating over lost souls in an extraordinary Last Judgement scene. In existence since the 7th century, the church is the lagoon's oldest Byzantine-Romanesque structure.

Of the basilica's mosaics, the earliest, dating to the 12th century, is the Madonna rising in the eastern apse above a field of Torcello poppies. To the right of her is another richly decorated chapel, showing Christ flanked by two angels and Sts Augustine, Ambrose, Martin and Gregory amid richly rendered symbolic plants: lilies (representing purity), wheat and grapes (representing the bread and wine of the Eucharist) and poppies (evoking Torcello’s island setting).

Polychrome marble floors are another medieval masterpiece, with swirling designs and interlocking wheels symbolising eternal life. Saints line up atop the gilded iconostasis, their gravity foiled by a Byzantine screen teeming with peacocks, rabbits and other fanciful beasts.

An audio guide (€2) is available and it's also possible to climb the campanile (€5) for heavenly views over the swampy islands, giving a fascinating insight into what Venice itself must once have looked like.