Discovering the colorful island of Murano, Italy
By Kristi Nelson Cohen
Photos by the author
The renaissance European aristocracy favored it, explorers Lewis and Clark used the beads for trading with the Native Americans and Victorians proudly displayed it. Venetian glass has captured our eye for centuries, and today artisans continue a time-honored tradition to produce some of the world’s most beautiful glass.
The marshy lagoon offers artisans the components necessary for glass making: silica, sand and soda ash. Glass making started in Venice over a thousand years ago, but with the fear of fire from the glowing hot furnaces, and air polluting smoke from these same furnaces, Venetians decreed that all glass making take place on a nearby island. Glass makers moved their furnaces and factories in 1291 to the island of Murano, just two miles north of Venice across the lagoon.
Once these glass artisans moved to Murano, this tiny town prospered and grew to nearly 30,000 residents in the 13th century. This community is similar to Venice, as it is comprised of several small islands, connected by canals and bridges, but on a much smaller scale. Today, Murano is home to only a few thousand permanent residents.
GET AWAY FROM CROWDS
Frankly, it is sometimes a relief to get away from the crowds and busy sidewalks in Venice and take the time to enjoy a slower pace in Murano. There are many glass factories still operating in Murano and most have complimentary demonstrations and tours available. Of course, they also have elegant showrooms with one-of-a-kind glass sculptures, chandeliers, goblets and even glass beads. Prices at the glass factories can seem steep, but each piece is authenticated, insured and shipping is available.
During a demonstration, most factories will show you how an artisan takes a molten glob of glass, orange with heat, and blows through a tube and spins the tube, creating a one-of-a-kind creation. Minerals and precious metals are added to the glass to create colors, just as they would have been 500 years ago. The color blends, and mineral recipes are a highly regarded secrets.
VISIT IS A ‘MUST’
A visit to a glass factory is a must, but when it comes to buying glass, there are also many smaller shops lining Murano’s main canal near the Vaparetto (water bus) stop. Compare prices, as you may find even better bargains in one of the many shops in Venice. The smaller shops don’t usually offer shipping, but they are happy to pack purchases in bubble wrap and tissue to pack in your luggage.
To learn about the history of glass making, visit the Museo Vetrario in the restored Palazzo Giustinian. This museum has exhibits of rare 500-year-old glass and glass/enamel pieces, as well as contemporary sculptures and examples of the entire glass making process. They are open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily (closed Wednesday).
Following a morning glass factory tour, enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the many eateries located along Murano’s main canal. Al Vetrai Da Adino, located at address number 29, is a personal favorite. Owner Adino and his wife Christina cook up some local favorites including the freshest fish, pastas and vegetables.
Start your meal with a typical Venetian “spritz” which is a refreshing aperitif made with Campari and sparking Prosecco. (If you enter the island via the Vaparetto, simply walk across the first bridge, then continue north about 200 feet and you’ll see the restaurant on your right. A large rooster logo adorns the front window.) Adino doesn’t speak much English, but his hospitality and great food will win you over. Be sure to tell them “Kristi sent me!” and you might be treated to an after-meal glass of Fragolino, a homemade wine that’s simply delicious! For advance lunch reservations,
TAKE THE VAPARETTO
How to reach Murano: Take the public water bus or Vaparetto – #41/42– which takes about 30 minutes (from the train station, or Piazzale Roma ) or take boat # 52 from San Zaccaria which is near Saint Mark’s Square.
In 2007, Vaparetto tickets were available for one trip at 3 Euro, or 12 Euro for a 24 hour multi-trip ticket. The glass factories also have representatives in San Marco Square who sometimes provide a free or discounted fare water taxi in exchange for taking a specific factory tour. Some hotels can also arrange for a boat to pick you up at the hotel and take you directly to one of the factories.
Once in Murano, you may want to continue on to the island of Torcello (whose cathedral was founded in 639) or Burano (distinct for its multi-colored homes and famous for the lace-making crafts). Take Vaparetto #13 from the dock located adjacent Murano’s lighthouse. (This requires walking across the canal and around Murano in order to get to the other Vaparetto stop).
Frankly, after a busy morning and a big lunch in Murano, one might prefer a lazy boat ride back to Venice, a good cup of coffee and or perhaps an afternoon nap. It’s all a part of the Venetian experience.
Kristi’s favorite glass factory offering a one-of-a-kind demonstration and truly unique, contemporary glass art is called Schiavon. Their factory also produces stemware, chandeliers and traditional Murano glass, although the unique pieces by Mr. Massimiliano Schiavon are worth a visit. This glass factory has been in the Schiavon family for three generations.
Vetreria Artistica Di Schiavon
No. 7 – just a few shops north of the Vaparetto stop on the first canal.
Phone: 011-39-041 739 396
Kristi Nelson Cohen is the owner of Bella Italia Trips, a small U.S. company offering guided trips to Italy. To reach Kristi or for more information, log onto www.bellaitaliatrips.com.