Venice is the ultimate in history, romance and mystique for many, with its gorgeous palaces, piazzas and cathedrals looming above the hundreds of canals and bridges. While there is much to do and see in this gorgeous city, getting off the island to explore other nearby sites in the Venetian Lagoon makes for an excellent day trip.
One I would highly recommend is Venice’s fascinating neighbour Murano, which consists of seven small islands linked by bridges. Only a few minutes by water taxi from Venice, Murano was a prosperous commercial port from the 7th – 13th centuries. Today it is primarily known as the island of glass-making, an art that has been passed down through the same families for generations.
Glass-blowing used to be done in Venice until 1291, when the Venetian Republic became concerned about the fire hazard that the kilns posed for the city and ordered all the glass-makers to relocate to Murano. This wasn’t all bad for the artisans, who received immunity from the strict laws and prosecution of the Venetian state. Soon, the daughters of glass-makers were marrying into the elite families of Venice, and the artisans of Murano were held in high esteem. At the time, they were the only people in all of Europe who knew how to make glass mirrors, which were in high demand among the wealthy.
However, they weren’t allowed to take their workshops off the island. Their craftsmanship, reputation and domination of the glass-making industry lasted for centuries, until industrialization and new techniques were developed around the 17th century. Even so, today the quality of Murano glass is well known and respected around the world, and many of the workshops and artisans belong to the same families who have passed down the craft for centuries.
When you arrive at Murano, you will find it slower, quieter and far less crowded than Venice. Alongside the many glass factories, there are also other shops, sidewalk cafés and stunning cathedrals.
You might start your tour at Museo del Vetro, a glass museum that is housed in a beautiful 16th century palace (be sure to admire the splendid 18th century ceiling fresco in the first-floor central room). The museum offers an extensive historical tour and insight into the art of Murano glass, laid out in chronological exhibitions.
From there you have a good background and appreciation to check out some of the workshops, where you can often observe the glass-makers at work in their fornacis (factories) before browsing the showrooms. Some authentic, quality shops to check out include Fornace Mian (established 1962), Fornace Ferro Murano, (in Murano for 700 years) and Seguso Gianni, a family that has been making glass here since the 1400s. Gianni Seguso learned the craft at a young age from his father, and today runs his workshop with his son, Marco:
“I was so lucky to have such a teacher,” Seguso says. “He was able to make everything. He became a Master when he was only 16. He could make every kind of object, sculptures based on sketches of very famous artists. But above all, incredibly beautiful chandeliers.”
• Beware of offers from the Piazzo San Marco in Venice from boatsmen that say they will take you to Murano for free. They are hired to take you to specific factories (usually overpriced), where you will strongly be encouraged to buy something. It’s far better to take a public water taxi. • Have in mind some of the main, older, reputable glass-makers to visit; today there are many newer and foreign ones that have sprung up and primarily sell souvenir trinkets and lower-quality glass. • Because so many souvenir shops try to pass off cheap counterfeits as Murano glass, the Veneto Region protects and promotes the designation of origin of artistic glassworks created on the island. Look for the “Vetro Murano Artistico” trademark decal in the windows of shops and showrooms that sell authentic Murano glass.
Museo del Vetro — http://museovetro.visitmuve.it/en/home/ Murano Glass Trademark & Info — http://www.muranoglass.com/en/ Seguso Gianni — http://www.seguso.it/ Fornace Ferro Murano — http://www.ferromurano.com/?lang=en
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Venice encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.
Header image courtesy Michael D.