The Island of Murano
The small island of Murano in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon is actually composed of seven smaller islands, linked by bridges. Like Venice, Murano offers its visitors a network of canals, lined with ancient buildings and beautiful views but, unlike the bigger city, it combines the richness of its history with a simpler, more genuine charm. Continue reading for Murano travel tips and history of the islands.
Since the late 1200s, Venetian glass artisans have set up shop in Murano, to save Venice and its wooden buildings from the fires that used to originate in the old workshops. In the following years exports of artisan products bloomed, and this small town became the major producer of glass in Europe. While becoming the island’s most prominent citizens, glass-makers were also forbidden to leave Venice, in order to preserve the secrets of glass making. This is how Murano managed to hold a monopoly on high-quality artistic glass for centuries, and how its artisans developed and refined many techniques. Crystalline glass, enameled glass, aventurine, millefiori, imitation gemstones made of glass are all the result of these studies.
Travel to Murano from Venice
Today, the glass furnaces are safe to operate and they make for an interesting, unique tourist attraction. Reaching Murano from Venice is very easy, thanks to the Vaporetti (water buses), whose tickets can also be bought online. Since Murano is formed by several small islands, water buses usually stop on most of them although some are slower than others. The lines you can take are the following:
From Ferrovia (Train Station) or Piazzale Roma line 4.2, every 20 minutes, 35 minute trip
From San Marco either line 4.1 or line 7, every 20 minutes, 25 minute trip
From Fondamenta Nuove lines 4.1 and 4.2, every 10 minutes, 8 minute trip
If you want to visit all of the Venice Lagoon islands (Murano, Burano and Torcello), you can also choose to book a guided tour on a typical Venetian boat for a slightly higher price.
No visit to Venice would be complete without a trip to Murano
At the first Vaporetto stop, you can get off and walk around the town at your own pace: whichever street you take, you’ll see a multitude of glass shops, workshops and factories. The most important Murano glass factories can only be visited by appointment and some have an entrance ticket. Some of them aren’t open to visitors at all, because they want to concentrate on glass making and because they don’t want competitors to observe their work and take notes. If you’re a collector, you may be able to make an arrangement to visit the more artistic workshops through a gallery or dealer.
Most smaller artisans will let you walk into their workshop while they’re working, for a free glass blowing demonstration. The glass-makers of Murano still employ traditional techniques and craft everything from glass jewelry to lamps. Several people work together at the glass furnace: the Master glass-maker, the first assistant (Servo), the second assistant (Serventino) and the (Forcellante). The glass bolo, a semi-liquid vitreous blob of glass heated to temperatures of 800°C or 1500°F, is gathered onto the end of the blowpipe. Once heated it must stay in constant movement. They swing it back and forth and blow into it until they arrive at the desired shape. The Forcellante then takes it and puts it in another oven to harden and cool. The cooling process is extremely slow, so that the glass doesn’t crack due to thermal changes.
Other travel tips: Not all the “Murano glass” you can find in the shops is actually from Murano, though. Some souvenir shops pass off cheap counterfeits as the real thing, so you should always look for the “Vetro Artistico Murano” trademark on their windows or doors.
Murano Travel Tips: Museums and Churches
After the furnace visit, you could decide to take a tour of the Museo del Vetro (The Glass Museum), housed in the gothic Palazzo Giustinian. Museum admission costs 11 €, while the reduced price is 8,50 €. The Glass Museum features a collection of glass artifacts from ancient Rome and Egypt as well as contemporary pieces, most of which were created in Murano’s own furnaces. Printed explanations are available in every room and you can book guided tours in many languages.
Nearly all of Murano’s old churches were torn down and replaced by houses or glass factories after the Venetian Republic fell to Napoleon, and their precious artworks were removed. Today, only four churches remain, and two are open to visitors. The beautiful Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato was built in the seventh century and is one of the oldest and most interesting churches in the Venetian Lagoon. Initially dedicated only to Saint Mary, it was later named after Saint Donato when his body came to be buried in the church basement. The building is deceptively simple in outward appearance (see photo), but inside it is richly decorated with detailed golden Byzantine mosaics. The marble and mosaic floor was laid in 1141, around the same time as the similar floor in Venice’s Basilica di San Marco, while the apse dome is decorated with a gold mosaic of the Virgin Mary from the twelfth century. The bell tower, similarly to the one in San Marco plaza, is separate from the church.
Murano’s Church of San Pietro Martire was built in the sixteenth century but was closed along with the other churches. However, it reopened soon after and received many famous paintings recovered from the other destroyed buildings. Among them the Baptism of Christ by Tintoretto, St. Jerome and St. Agatha by Veronese, and some of Giovanni Bellini’s works. The church is decorated with delicate Murano glass chandeliers and you can also visit the adjacent sacristy and museum.
Another interesting spot in town is Campo Santo Stefano. In this small square you can find the famous abstract blue Murano Glass sculpture representing a shooting star and a nineteenth century clock tower. Walking along the promenade, you can see the lighthouse Il Faro, located right next to one of the main stops of the Vaporetto. This 35 meters high building was made out of Istrian stone in 1934 and it still works from twilight to dawn for nighttime navigation. Murano is definitely a nice alternative to the busy streets of Venice and it will surely charm you with its glass-making history and beautiful views.