Known for its sparking treasures made of glass, the island of Murano is just a brief boat ride (vaporetto) away from Venice. Although touristy, I highly recommend the trip.
Historically, Venetians were known for their glass-making prowess. In the late 13th century, the industry was moved to the island of Murano. Fear of fire caused the Republic to order glass blowers (vetri) to move their furnaces (fornace) to a separate location.
Murano glass has been known for hundreds of years for its quality. In the 1600s, Murano mirrors dazzled the known world and allowed the wealthy to gaze upon their reflections for hours. Techniques used to create the glass were closely-guarded trade secrets. When Louis XIV unveiled the spectacular Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, I wonder if Venetians thought that someone sold them out. Glass artisans enjoyed high stature in society, but it came with a price—they were not allowed to leave the Republic. Disobeying the doge’s secret police could result in severe punishment. I bet someone questioned how the French developed mirror-making technology that was thought to be the sole domain of Venice.
The island is dedicated to glass. Numerous shops sell beautiful sparking glass vases, jewelry, knick-knacks, and home wares. I personally love the pieces in brilliant blues, greens, and purples, but every color in the rainbow is represented. Glass stores line the main canals. With a variety of “one-of-a-kind” pieces ranging in price from inexpensive to otherwise, there is likely something for everyone.
If glass is really your thing, then you may want to stop in the Glass Museum on the island. We had purchased Venice’s museum pass for 24€ that covered 10 museums of which the Museo del Vetro was one. There were some beautiful pieces in the museum and I enjoyed learning about the history of glass and glass-making.
I highly recommend seeing a glass-blowing demonstration while there. We visited “Ai Dogi,” a factory close to the vaporetto stop. The shop didn’t charge for the demonstration and I enjoyed that there was absolutely no sales pressure. I did end up buying a few trinkets because they didn’t try to coerce us into a sale. Prices were roughly the same on the island as they were on Venice, but I enjoyed purchasing pieces that were made by the vetri at the shop. Signs clearly marked which products were made on site and which were not.
Beware that glass-blowing demonstrations usually come with a sales pitch. If they provide a water taxi from Venice, they will expect you to make a purchase. It is better to pay 7.50€ to take the public vaporetto and be beholden to no one.
The demonstration was fascinating. We were mesmerized by the flames of the fornace and the skill of the vetro. The warmth from the oven would have been too hot on any other day of our late spring visit, but it was perfect that day since it was rainy and slightly chilly.
As the vetro finished blowing the vase he was working on, I yelled out “bravo” in response to skill. What an artisan! He had taken a few broken pieces of glass and some colored chips and made a beautiful work of art.
Make sure you stop by Campo Santo Stefano to see the marvelous blue glass sculpture located in front of the clock tower there. It is a beautiful work of art.
If you’re not into glass, this will probably not be the island for you. That being said I didn’t think that I was a glass works aficionado, nor did my husband, and we both found our time on the island extremely enjoyable. We were not able to find a good eatery though. Please let me know if you know of one. The only nice thing I can say about the place where we ate lunch was that the prices were less of a rip-off than others on the island. Since I follow the rule “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all,” I won’t mention it’s name.
One last piece of advice: if you are thinking of buying glass, especially if you plan to buy an expensive piece, make sure that you are getting authentic Murano glass and not a piece brought in from another country. There should be a mark at the bottom (called a Pontil scar) where the glass blower broke off the finished product from the rod he was working it with (this will become apparent if you watch the demonstration). Look for the artisan’s signature or sticker indicating a local place of business. Make sure it has the trademark decal that only authentic sellers can place on their pieces stating Vetro Artistico Murano. This decal is tamper-proof. A “Certificate of Authenticity” is nice, but can easily be created so it shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when verifying authenticity. Look for signs in the store that boast that their products are made in Italy on the island of Murano. Authentic Murano products will not be bargain-basement cheap. Murano glass works have vivid colors, look hand-crafted, and will likely have some minor defects. If a piece has a sloppy paint job or any other sloppy looking detail, it was probably mass produced on an assembly line elsewhere. That is my final piece of advice–a piece shouldn’t look too uniform to another. Uniformity comes from mass production, not individual artisanry.
Have a great time on glass island!
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