Despite being surrounded by water, no one feared fires more than medieval Venetians. Packed onto tiny islands, mostly in wooden houses with little or no space between them, a house fire could gut entire sections of the city in very little time. In the 13th century the Doge, or Duke, made a drastic decision and exiled all glass makers – whose trade required immensely hot furnaces – to the nearby islands of Murano. But far from suffering, they consolidated their industry in Murano and became one of the leading forces in fine glass making in Europe. Over the next 500 years they developed many new types of glass and special techniques for working it and exported their wares all over the world. Although the Venetian government, in an effort to maintain a monopoly on glass-making technologies, forbade them from leaving the Lagoon, the occasional clandestine immigration of a glass maker to other parts of Europe slowly spread Venetian ideas and technology to the rest of the world. Today Murano’s glass industry is a shadow of its former self but you can still visit factories producing beautiful, artisanal works.
Visiting Murano: Things to See
The Church of Santa Maria e San Donato
The main reasons to see this church for the non-devout are its relics and its mosaics. Santa Maria e San Donato is one of the few churches in Europe to showcase supposed dragon bones – all that’s left of a beast killed by St. Donatus in Greece. Although dragon killing was a pretty popular saintly past-time (see St. George and Venice’s first patron saint, Theodore, who is commemorated on the side of the Rialto Bridge, among other places) it’s rare to find te remains of the creatures on display, much less in churches, so there is an undeniable curio-draw to the whole thing.
More prosaic, but probably more important are the mosaics. These stunning pieces of art were rendered in the Byzantine style using stone and gilded glass, showcasing the early virtuosity of glass makers in and around Venice.
The Glass Workshops
While some stores in Venice do sell knock-off Murano glass, it’s easy to ensure authenticity by checking for the official decal that says “Vetro Artistico Murano”. But if you want to see how the glass is made as well as buying some nice pieces, you have to go out to Murano. Some glass workshops offer guided tours while others simply keep their doors open and allow you to peek in from the street. Either way, watching glass being blown and worked is one of the unique experiences you can have in Murano and a must-see for any art enthusiasts.
Tips for Visiting Murano
Glass factories are usually open on weekday mornings. They close for lunch (which typically lasts from noon to mid-afternoon) then open again for a short period in the afternoons. Although shops are open all day throughout the year the factories are usually shuttered in august when workers head off to take their vacations.
The Church of Santa Maria e San Donato is open Mondays through Saturdays 8:30am to 12.00pm and 4:00pm to 7:00pm. Sundays 4:00pm to 6:00pm
How to get to Murano
We recommend taking the 42 vaporetto (public transport ferry). Some factories offer free boats over from Venice but they tend to include high-pressure sales pitches. Unless you are impervious to such tactics, it’s best to go over on your own. The ferry is very quick, cheap and easy (the ride is only about 15 minutes).
The Best Time to Visit Murano
Mornings are always the best time to drop by and do a bit of shopping. As stated above, some of the factories will be open (assuming it’s not august) and you will have plenty of energy to search for that perfect vase.
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