No trip to Venice would be complete without a visit to glass paradise, Murano. This small island just a mile away from Venice set pace for fashion and innovation in global glass-making industry for over 700 years. It was on this island that talented artisans turned glassmaking into an art form meant to satisfy even the most exquisite tastes, a story which remains relevant today.Offering not only a network of canals lined with ancient buildings and gorgeous views like the rest of Venice, Murano charms its visitors with many other unique attractions that cannot be found anywhere else.
The island of Murano became home to all of the Venetian glass furnaces in 1291. The risk of fires in the city made of wood along with nascent popularity and importance of glass-making craft, convinced the Doge that Murano was the right place to isolate and guard the workshops from curious eyes eager to steal the secrets of the trade. From then on, Murano name became associated with the most coveted and high quality glass works.
Today, Murano combines the richness of its past with the beauty and charm that characterizes many ancient Italian cities, but with a distinctly Venetian twist. Most visitors to Venice tend to plan their trips around the usual tourist attractions leaving no time for Murano. However, Murano offers a different kind of experience: a glimpse into Venice of the past, more real, more simple, more alive than Venice of today. Murano is a living breathing place filled with people going about their business, local women chatting, kids playing, and working glass factories and workshops making glassware using old methods and basic tools.
Getting to Murano is quite easy, as the neighboring islands are well connected to Venice, and it can be reached either by vaporetto (water bus) or water taxi. Since Murano is formed by seven islands (all connected by small bridges), water buses usually stop in almost all of them. Starting from either Ferrovia (Venice’s train station) or Piazzale Roma, the lines 4.1 and 4.2 take passengers straight to Murano, they make several stops around the island, and they can be taken every 20 minutes. Once visitors get to Venice, they should consider asking advice on the most convenient type of water bus ticket to suit their trip. One tip, however, is not to take free Murano boats suggested by your hotel since they usually have deals with highly overpriced glass shops, and can therefore deprive visitors from a more complete and independent visit.
Once you arrive at the first vaporetto stop in Murano called Murano Colonna, you’ll often see people inviting tourists to visit certain glass workshops and furnaces, most of which again paid these messengers for advertisement. Avoid dealing with these agents and instead take a walk around the island at your own pace. Whichever street or canal you decide to take, you will see a multitude of glass shops and a number of factories and workshops, some of which will be offering glass-making demonstrations. Feel free to wonder in, watch the demo, look around, but never feel obligated to buy the glassware. You want to make sure you weigh different options and see different styles and price points before finding the piece you love and buying it at the right price.
Of all the glassmaking demonstrations on Murano the most complete and professional one is conducted by the Abate Zanetti School. With historic importance in the world of glass, the Abate Zanetti institution shares its knowledge with customers, explaining the properties of this material while demonstrating the different production techniques and their results. Another revered and unique Murano institution, Murano Glass Museum located at Fondamenta Giustinian 8, proudly displays one of the best collections of glass works in the world, from ancient Roman art to fine contemporary pieces, most of which originated in Murano’s furnaces. Excellent printed explanations are available in every room and guided tours in English are conducted frequently. It is also possible to have a complete experience combining a guided visit to the museum and glass-working demonstration by Abate Zanetti school of glass for 18€ every Tuesday and Thursday.
Although understandably Murano seems to be all about the glass furnaces, there are amazing historical landmarks on the island, the main of which is the Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato. This beautiful church was built in the seventh century and rebuilt in its present form in 1140 AD. It is one of the oldest churches in the Venetian Lagoon. It is famous for its detailed and delicate ancient byzantine mosaic work on both the ceiling and the floor. While many churches take pride in housing bones from different saints, this church showcases four large bones above the altar, which are said to be the bones of the dragon that Saint Donato of Arezzo slayed. St. Donato himself is also buried here in the marble sarcophagus. The church boasts gorgeous interiors and amazing glass chandeliers along with pure gold mosaics, and can be appreciated both from a tourist perspective as well as from religious one during Sunday mass.
At one point there were eighteen churches on Murano island but after Venetian Republic fell to Napoleon many of them were closed and their precious artworks were removed. Murano’s Church of San Pietro Martire (Saint Peter the Martyr) built in 1506 fell victim to this, along with its monastery. However, the church reopened soon after its closure, and received many famous paintings recovered from other destroyed Murano churches. Among them you can still see today Baptism of Christ by Tintoretto, St. Jerome and St. Agatha by Veronese, and Giovanni Bellini’s works. This gem of a church decorated with delicate Murano Glass chandeliers is a peaceful and quiet alternative to Venetian churches.The campanile of this church rises high above the rooftops of Murano and defines the landscape of the island.
Another highly visited spot is Campo Santo Stefano. In this small piazza one can find the famous abstract blue Murano Glass sculpture representing a shooting star. Just behind this icon of contemporary Murano craftsmanship, there is the Church of Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen) and its clock tower built in the 1800’s.
One of Murano’s sought after features is the peace and tranquility one can feel on every street, perhaps apart from the main thoroughfares where commerce is booming during the day. Walking along the islands and across the bridges it is easy to get a better taste of what life used to be like in and around Venice. During spring and summer, locals decorate their windows and balconies with delicate glass flowers of different colors, mimicking real flowers like roses and daffodils.
Local restaurants reflect this simple peaceful lifestyle, offering simple yet delicious menus, always based in Venetian cuisine and local seafood. Along the Fondamenta Andrea Navagero there are some fancier restaurants like Osteria al Duomo or Trattoria Valmarana; they’re not too expensive and they offer delicious fritti (fried sea food). Walking on Fondamenta Manin one can find Trattoria al Corallo, which is everything one can expect from authentic family-owned Italian restaurant: exquisite food, a homey environment, a terrace by the canal and excellent wine. A good option for a quick coffee or cappuccino while waiting for the vaporetto is Bar Colonna, along Fondamenta Colonna and right in front of one of the water bus stops.
Murano is definitely a precious gem to discover and is worth finding some time when you are in Venice. It is a discreet alternative to the always-busy lifestyle experienced in Venice. As you can see, Murano will not only immerse you in its glassmaking industry and history, but it will surely also charm you with its magical views, impressive landmarks, and peaceful lifestyle.