Murano Glass exists in Venice for over 1,000 years and survived multiple upheavals. However, this time it is in real danger of extinction.
Murano Glass is one of the world’s oldest surviving industries. While glass-making was known to humans even as far back as ancient Egypt, the production of glass in Venice was established on the heels of the craft developed in ancient Rome.
Fleeing from the barbarians, the Romans who settled in Venice established glass-making furnaces and used local silica and soda to create their first glass vessels. After the industry got established on Murano island by the government decree in 1291, the local glass furnaces have been working full force despite the difficulties brought by wars, floods, and competition.
However, this time it’s different. The Murano Glass industry has encountered the perfect storm created by the horrible flood of Venice in 2019, the global Covid-19 pandemic, and the enormous increase in gas prices brought on by the war in Ukraine and the transformation to renewable energy. This gas problem may just be the last straw to break the back of the ancient industry.
Murano Glass furnaces are notoriously gas-hungry. They have to burn at 1500 degrees Celsius and cannot be turned on and off daily. It takes about a week to ignite a furnace and bring it to the stable high temperature required for glass-making. This process costs tens of thousands of euros. Therefore, the furnaces are normally only extinguished for one month a year, august, when the local glass artisans traditionally take a break amid the summer heat.
The Glass Factories Are Shutting Down.
However, since February of 2022, many of the artisans we at GlassOfVenice work with had to extinguish their furnaces for varying periods of time, from a month to what looks like a permanent shutdown for some. This is because they cannot continue production with the current gas prices unless they increase their own prices to the point where customers will stop buying Murano Glass from them.
To put it all in perspective, he price of gas in Murano jumped over a thousand percentage points from 0.20 euro per cubic meter in September of 2021 to up to 3 euros per cubic meter after the start of the war in Ukraine. This translates into an unthinkable jump in the annual gas bill from about 20,000 euros to over 300,000 euros on average for a Murano Glass factory. This estimate is based on the data from Consorzio Promovetro Murano trade organization, which says there are about 100 factories on Murano and their combined gas usage is 10 to 11 million cubic meters in a normal year.
Almost as bad as the increase in prices is the uncertainty that the glass factories face. Prices jump wildly from month to month and no gas supplier is willing to renew Murano factories’ expiring gas contracts at fixed price. Because of this, it is impossible to plan production. Some Murano business owners decide to shut down their production entirely while they wait for some stabilization and subsidies from the government. Others shut down some furnaces resulting in limitations to the variety of their glassware and other restrictions in the glass-making process.
Smaller Artisans Also Face Uncertain Future.
Even smaller Murano Glass workshops and individual artisans working with a torch instead of large furnaces are feeling the pain. Such glass makers use much less gas but the torches require oxygen to operate, which also increased in price. In addition, they are faced with a shortage of glass canes.
Many smaller Murano artisans use lampworking method of glass-making. This means they use glass canes, which they heat up under the torch, then blow and shape into jewelry, ornaments, and figurines.
These canes in all designs and colors are produced by Effetre – the icon of Venetian glass-making and the only maker of glass canes on Murano island. However, Effetre, which operates multiple large furnaces, has also stopped production almost completely due to the gas price increases, since their business has also become unsustainable almost overnight.
The situation is really dire for all glass artisans on Murano. Among Glass Of Venice’s 30+ suppliers of varying sizes, 10 have stopped production at various points in the last 6 months and 4 have not reopened. All are waiting for promised subsidies from the government and from UNESCO, however, those are temporary patches on a growing wound and are slow to arrive.
The Murano Glass industry is an incredibly important part of our cultural heritage, it is a venerable human achievement that needs to be sustained and protected. Moreover, it is a vital part of the economy of Venice and Murano, helping them stay living breathing cities rather than Disneyland-like destinations. It is our hope that Murano Glass will stay resilient in the face of this new adversity and will prosper once again.