There are around forty islands in the lagoon of Venice, which can be classified as larger and smaller islands.
Some of the latter have already been restored to active use (e.g. Certosa, Lazzaretto Nuovo, etc.) and others are currently under redevelopment (e.g. San Giacomo in Palude). Others (e.g. Madonna del Monte, Sant'Arian) are in a state of decline or are abandoned. One (San Francesco del Deserto) has always served as a Franciscan monastery.
Some of the islands are publicly owned, but not all are served by public transport, though visits can be arranged.
THE LARGER ISLANDS
Burano is an inhabited island in the Venetian lagoon and part of the municipality of Venice. It is well known for its production of lace and for its typical, brightly coloured houses.
Sant'Erasmo is the largest island in the northern area of the lagoon. It is over 4 km long though quite narrow (between 500 metres and 1 km): its shape is a reminder of its past as beach. The island's population is constantly decreasing. It is now home to about eight hundred people, most of whom work on the land (though only a dozen or so of the island's young people are actively employed in farming). Sant'Erasmo has traditionally served as Venice's vegetable garden, and was developed by the city's administrators precisely to ensure a constant supply of fresh fruit and greens.
Torcello is an island in the Venetian lagoon that is delimited by the Burano canal to the south west and by the swamplands of Rosa and Centrega to the north east. Torcello is very popular with tourists. The island was first settled in the 5th and 6th centuries, making it one of the oldest inhabited sites in the lagoon. At its time of greatest splendour, Torcello had a population of around twenty thousand. After a long decline, the island is now home to only a few dozen residents.
THE SMALLER ISLANDS
In ancient times, the island of Certosa was formed by two smaller islands, separated by a channel. This was filled in in 1199 when the Augustinian order built a church and monastery there. The island was abandoned by the Augustinians in 1419, but was taken over in 1424 by the Certosini Fathers from Florence, who restored the original buildings and added nine new constructions, including a group of 15 cells arranged around a cloister. The Fathers also rebuilt the church and organised its decoration by a number of masters, including Tintoretto.
Its position has made Lazzaretto Nuovo a historical reference point in Venice's port system. The island was used to provide logistic support for transport in the lagoon as far back as Roman times. In the mediaeval period the island was cultivated as a vineyard by the monks of Saint George, and acquired the name of Vigna Murada (Walled Vineyard). Between the fourteenth and fifteenth century a small hospice was built there as well as a church dedicated to Saint Bartholomew, which later became part of the island's quarantine system. In a decree of the 18th July 1468, the Venetian Senate commandeered the island from the monks for further development, and gave it the name of Lazzaretto Nuovo.
San Francesco del deserto:
This island is not served by public transport, but can be reached by boat. One of the monastery's monks is always available to accompany visitors. According to tradition, the island's monastery was founded when Saint Francis of Assisi visited the area on his return from Egypt in 1220. Legend has it that the ship on which he was travelling from Alexandria was caught in a fearful storm as it neared Venice, and that the saint, through his prayers, placated the elements and allowed the vessel to anchor near Torcello. Accompanied by brother Illuminato of Rieti, Saint Francis then visited the small island nearby, giving it the name it still bears today.