Burano is even smaller than Murano and cuter by far. As with all travel in the Venetian Lagoon, my daughter and I took a vaporetto, a somewhat longer trip than other visits. The canal along the main shopping street was small, and the narrow passage lent an intimacy to the walkways and buildings on either side.
While Burano has been a fishing village from the time of the Romans, its historic claim to fame is its tradition of hand-made lace, though the brightly painted buildings are becoming a close second. While every shop in Murano sells glass, the Burano shops are full of home textiles and clothing enhanced by some form of needlework.
I learned that lace stitching is very specialized. A shopkeeper showed me a one inch square piece of lace in process. She pointed out three different stitch types in the tiny piece, and told me that each was done by a different woman on the island. Burano has a small Lace Museum where you can learn more.
There is, of course, a legend of how Burano lace-making came about. The story goes that a fisherman who was about to be married went out to sea, and a beautiful mermaid tempted him mercilessly. But he remained true to his fiancé. Seeing this, the Queen of the Sirens rewarded him with a gift for his fiancé of a beautiful bridal veil made from sea foam. The other young women of Burano were so envious that they tried to recreate the veil for themselves using needle and thread. Thus was born the lace industry.
While everything was beautiful, I had no interest in purchasing a lace tablecloth, hanky or curtains, though I did think twice about buying a sun umbrella. Can you picture me walking down Mamane Street in Honokaʻa with that? No, lace is just not my style. I found the architecture far more interesting than shopping.
Each building was painted in the most amazing happy colors. But it wasn’t just the retail sections of town. It was all of the buildings: each house, each section of a set of apartments. Even houses in the shadows seemed to glow. The story goes that the villagers started this tradition long ago so that the fishermen could identify their homes when returning from fishing in thick fogs.
Since then, it’s become institutionalized, a system set up by the government. When an owner wants to paint their house, they submit a request to the government, who will let them know their color choices for that specific lot. While it may sound over-regulated, it’s no worse than CC&Rs in subdivisions here in the US, and at least they get to choose fun colors.
The best views were along the canals where the reflection of the houses in the water doubled the punch of color.
Most homes are right on the street with no patches of grass and very few fences to create privacy. So residents exit directly into the public walkway. Many had installed textile curtains across the front doors to provide privacy when the doors were open for ventilation. These added to the sense of the town as a place for textiles.
And yes, people do live here, as the airing laundry, hanging even from main street upper windows, demonstrates. In one small square, a playground sat underneath a nonna flapping a rug from an upstairs window.
A final point, like icing on a cake – we learned that Burano has a leaning tower. It’s part of St. Martin’s Church, built in the 16th century. The tower was added in the 1700’s and began to lean almost immediately. The government had to start stabilizing it when the tower’s lean accelerated during WWII. The stabilization program only ended in 1970. Eat your heart out Pisa: all you’ve got is a leaning white tower. Burano is so much more.
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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