My daughter and I enjoyed the night we spent in Venice, but now it was time to move to our home base, Murano, famous for the glass that’s been hand-crafted there for centuries. Many Venice visitors don’t make it out to the smaller lagoon islands, each with their own character and story. While Venice is small (3 miles by 2 miles), Murano is even smaller (less than a mile across). Venice is built on 118 islands/islets with 177 canals and 409 bridges. Murano has seven islands and eight channels/canals; I counted 10 bridges on our map.
We took the Number 3 vaporetto, which is a smaller boat with enclosed front and back compartments that sits low in the water. It was packed with people, baby strollers, packages and luggage. My mind immediately went to how difficult it would be to evacuate in case of an emergency. (It’s hard to shake American ways of thinking when overseas.)
The minute you step off the boat, you sense a completely different vibe from Venice. It’s much quieter, less commercial, and filled with glass shops. The infrastructure is less decorative than Venice. Many of the plain brick industrial buildings have been converted to other uses. Venice is a Grand Lady; Murano is her working-class Sister but no less proud of Her contributions and heritage.
In 1291, the government of Venice decided that there was too much fire risk for the mostly wooden buildings in Venice to have their glass-makers there. So they forcibly moved these artisans and their foundries to Murano, forbidding them to leave the Venetian Republic so as to safe-guard their secrets. In the following centuries Murano thrived on innovation and became a hub for chandeliers, beads, mirrors and all things glass. They were world-famous.
Glass-making is still intimately linked with Murano, long after the glass-making secrets escaped and the island’s importance declined. The countless shops display everything from kitsch to glass jewelry to exquisite art without price tags. I overhead one couple asking a price; they were stunned to hear that the vase they liked was 6000 Euros.
Glass-making demonstrations in the historic foundries are readily available. We watched a pro turn a glob of red-hot glass into a horse in less than three minutes! And at another foundry/shop we watched a pro blow and prod a drinking glass into being, again, in minutes. Both shops sold glass items made right there. Among the tourist souvenirs, you can find signed pieces that are exquisite.
But the best place to appreciate Murano glass is at the Murano Glass Museum. It covers the history of glass-making from Egyptian and Roman times to present. A definite must-see.
I love Murano for its character and its beautiful glass. I was even able to find a spot where the tide went out enough to expose a very tiny beach. Sure enough, at low tide, I found seaglass there. Admittedly, almost none of it was weathered or “cooked” enough to be true seaglass. But it was Murano seaglass with a range of colors I’d never before seen on a beach: pink, aqua, teal, even red, orange and yellow. I even scored two glass beads and some glass with multiple colors. As a beachcomber, this is the kind of travel souvenir I treasure most. I’ll keep this little pile of broken glass as a very special memento of a very special place. It’s so much more meaningful than buying a glass horse.
For other essays from this trip to the Venetian Lagoon, see:
To see my Venice essays from a trip in 2015, see:
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