Akash and I went to Murano on one hot Italian summer day. It was the day after we explored the colour blocked island of Burano and the Venetian Lagoon enticed us to return. The vaporetto (water bus) ride was short and Murano appeared quietly under a wide expanse of clear blue skies. There is something about Italian summer skies that make everything look more colourful, instead of being faded out and the Venetian lagoon was a sheet of shimmering emerald. Patches of aquatic plants floated past our vaporetto, heaving gently in the lapping waves and seabirds cried out shrilly as they squabbled for fish. It was a beautiful day to break away from Venice‘s opulent grandeur and maddening crush of tourists. Famous for a very old and traditional glassmaking industry, Murano was also quite popular with the travelers, though the number of footfall was much less than Venice. Most daytrippers to Venice did not have time for the outlying islands of the Venetian lagoon and this made Murano relatively tranquil, rural, and friendlier.
The laidback charm of Murano
Famously called the “glass island of Venice”, Murano is made up of a series of seven islands, that are interlinked by bridges. These islands are separated y eight channels of the Venetian lagoon thus making Murano both photogenic and easy to explore by foot in one day. Beautiful canals run through this lovely glass island and crumbling mansions in bright colours line both sides of them. Riotously blooming flower pots and drying laundry hang from wrought iron balconies and they reflect on the canal waters like molten crayons. Murano also has some very quiet squares which are frequented mostly by pigeons and boats glide through the canals in a quiet unhurried way. Akash and I loved Murano for its quiet laidback charm and though also absolutely gorgeous, there was no queue of people rushing to take photos. Walking around the island was easier as well and the spacious little squares became Akash‘s playground.
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An island which had its own currency
Though it may sound like ranting Venice seriously lacks in green areas and the line of shady trees in Murano‘s squares was a treat for my nature-starved eyes. We ambled along Murano, taking in its sights and sounds and sampling tiramisu and coffee at coffee shops along the canals until we came to the other vaporetto point of the island. Surprisingly for a commune of such small size, Murano had two vaporetto stations and these were immediate reminders of the island‘s erstwhile commercial importance. For many centuries, Murano was a giant in the glass making industry and it had a complete monopoly in Europe‘s glass exports. However, it had a very humble origin as a fishing port which prospered by trading salt and over the period of time, grew important enough to have its own government, police force, a currency which they minted in Murano and a system of merchant aristocracy.
The glassmaking legacy of Murano
Its famous glassmaking legacy began in the 12th century when the Venetian officials ordered all glass foundries in Venice to be shifted to Murano. This was done keeping safety in mind since the floating city comprised mostly of wooden buildings at that time. The move soared Murano‘s fortunes and soon the glassmakers of the island became important artisans for the Venetian commerce. They were granted many rights and privileges and in the 1500‘s, the daughters of the glassmakers of Murano were permitted to marry Venetian royalty if their merchant family status and wealth permitted so. The special privileges also came with a host of restrictions and the glassmakers of Murano were forbidden to leave the Republic. The lawbreakers were meted out with the harshest of punishments by the Venetian secret police and the glassmakers were considered as exclusive commodities of Venice.
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Mirror, mirror on the wall, beads, figurines and more
Incidentally, it was the excellence of their work which subjected them to being kept away secured in Venetian golden cages and during that time Murano glass was worth their weight in gold. They were also the only craftsmen in entire Europe who knew how to make mirrors of glass instead of the metal ones as was used back then. Murano glassmakers were also skilled in creating delicate art pieces from items from enameled glass, crystalline glass, milk glass, glass with threads of gold (also known as aventurine, or goldstone; it is a smooth, glittering stone which can be later carved into other items such as beads and figurines), multicolored glass (or “millefiori”), as well as glass imitation gems. Due to their excellent and diverse skills in glassmaking techniques and technologies, for centuries Murano has been well known the world over for its vases, drinking glasses, sculptures, chandeliers, and glass wine stoppers.
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Today, Murano is no longer exclusively dependent on its craft and it has become an alternative base for travelers seeking canal charm without the hefty prices and tourist crowd of Venice. Its glass making industry still continues to thrive and this little Venetian island produces some of the finest glass items in the world. Nearly every building in Murano has a glass shop and a glass blowing factory, where paid visits are possible and window shopping is a jaw-dropping affair here. Scintillating glass pieces glint playfully from Murano shop windows and the island produces export items of traditional glassware and mirrors, glass jewelry, lampshades, electric chandeliers, door and faucet handles, as well as contemporary glass sculptures and various souvenir items and knickknacks.
Murano travel tip
How to visit
It is very easy to visit Murano by public vaporetto. Just take lines 4.1 or 4.2 from the stop Fondamente Nove on the north side of the lagoon, or catch line 3 from Piazzale Roma or Ferrovia. Get off at any stop once you reach the island. Colonna is easiest for visiting glass studios, but Museo is closest to the museum of glass. Plan to spend a day or at least an afternoon there, so you have plenty of time to stroll through the little shops.
When to Visit
If you wish to see glassblowing in action, then plan on visiting on weekday mornings for a relatively less tourist filled session. Most of the serious studios are not open to the public, but you never know what you could encounter with an adventurous mindset and a respectful demeanor. The best time to visit glass factories is in the mornings since a lot of them close down for lunch and only tend to reopen at any time during mid-afternoon. Also, note that a lot of the factories are closed during August as it is ferragosto, and people are away on vacation. Some establishments may choose to remain open, but make sure to check schedules with your tour organizer. Many tourist-oriented factories, shops, and showrooms are usually open on weekends. However, take note that those that are more geared towards the trade are only open on weekdays.
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