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Murano and Burano — Islands of Glass and Lace
While a trip to Venice may be on many a presons list of dreams yet to be fulfilled, few of us think about including the desitinations of the islands of Murano and Burano in their itenerary. But a trip to Venice without seeing these artistic destinations is a lost opportunity. These two islands should certainly be on everyones list of things to see and do when visiting that Renaissance city.
Murano — the Island of Glass.
Just a short boat ride from Venice is the island of Murano. The island is home for several families who have passed the art of glass–blowing and forming down from generation to generation. In the work shops the artisans can be seen creating some of the glasswork that sells for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
After the fall of Constantinople (current day Istambul) during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, glass craftsmen fled the area and came in Venice. Here they further developed their art, producing and making famous what is commonly refered to as "Venetial glass". In an attempt to keep Venetian glassmaking techniques withing Venich, their workshops moved to the island of Murano by the end of the century. One of the glassmaking companies with roots to those ancient times is Barovier & Toso, one of the oldest companies in the world, which formed in 1295.
These craftsmen continued to refine their skills, mastering a variety of decorative techniques and gaining greater control over the color and transparency of their glass by the 16th century. Althought they tried to keep their expertise within Venice, this style of glassware was soon copied and produced in other cities throughtout Italy and Europe. The legendary types of Venetian glass are now made in Murano, and are known as "Murano glass".
Burano - the Island of Lace
The island of Burano is easily identified by the leaning bell tower of the Church of San Martino. Here visitors will find some of the worlds most colorful streets and waterways, where small and brightly painted multi–colored houses contrast with the equally colorful flower. It gives the traveler the impression that they have stepped into a painting, and althought the color schemes may seem random, a government regulated system enforces which colors are permitted for each lot. But it is not askew church tower nor the colorful streets and waterways that brought recognition to this small island community. It is the high–quality, hand–made, delicate lace that has been produced by the ladies of the island since the 16th century.
Once populated by about 8,000 poor inhabitants (mostly fisherman and farmers), the women developed the craft of producing spider-web exquisite and intricate lacework. The quality of the fantastic lace was soon in demand all over the western world; their craft was exported and the island grew economically. The demand was such that a lace–making school (now the home of the Lace Museum) was opened in 1872.
However, lace isn't as popular today as it once was, and the number of women who take up this art continues to decline. Still, you can visit shops that continue to produce the elegant hand–made produce and see these talented artisans at work. While many shops have the less expensive mass–produced merchandise, the hand–made Burano lace should be considered as a piece of art; expect it to be more expensive.
If You Go:
The islands of Murano and Burano are both accessible by boat from Venice. The slower (and less expensive) water–bus makes scheduled stops at both islands. It traveles along the Grand Canal (Venice's Main Street) and tickets are available along the route, at its boarding stops. A quicker mode would be to take one of the water–taxi's, which can weave through the backstreet waterways of the city for a more memorable and more enjoyable ride. Since both islands can be seen in a day, I would recommend taking the water–taxi to Murano in the morning, and then taking the water–bus from there to Burano, and from Burano back to Venice.
On the island of Murano there are several glass making businesses that provide you with free entrance to their facility to see their artisans at work. Afterward, you are invited to look at their products in their showrooms, which are extensive and each successive room seems to contain work more lavish and exquisite than the previous. While picture taking is permitted in the work–space, it is prohibited in the showrooms.
On Burano, to get a better idea of the quality of their work, visit a shop that actively produces lace. And, if you have the time, a trip to the Lace Museum (Museo del Merlotto di Burano) located in the Piazza Galuppi has samples of lace as well as displays of period dress and glass. The museum also has artisans demonstrating lace making. There is an entrance fee.