Venice lagoon’s popular islands:
If you only have a short time in Venice and want to explore the islands of its lagoon, the most popular ones are Murano, Burano and Torcello. These three can be covered in the one outing and can be reached by the public vaporetti. The vaporetto ride on Venice’s waterways is always fun and apart from being attractive islands to visit, Murano and Burano have things that visitors want – glass products and lace!
Murano is actually a cluster of islands connected by bridges. Murano is world-renowned for its glass products. Its glass-making industry began in 1291 when the city of Venice moved the glass furnaces and the glass artisans to Murano to avoid the risk of fire to city buildings and also because of the smoke.
Murano prospered as a result of glass-making so much so that from the late 13th century they were able to impose self-government and mint their own coins.
By the 15th and 16th centuries, Murano was the main glass-making centre in Europe and Murano glass artisans were revered and enjoyed elevated status and many privileges, including immunity from prosecution by the notoriously high-handed Venetian state. However, these privileges came at a cost – the artisans were not allowed to leave Murano to set up businesses elsewhere. Those who harboured thoughts of leaving ran the risk of severe penalties – and even the possibility of death.
Although Murano enjoyed a period of wealth from its glass-making industry, few of its buildings bear witness to its period of splendour and some of the glass factories are now derelict.
To Get to Murano: Catch Vaporetti n. 41 and 42 from S. Zaccaria to Murano. See here for the ACTV’s Network map.
This island can be recognized from a distance by the tall, tilted tower of its San Martino church. With 5,000 inhabitants, Burano island is densely populated. This is a fishing village and on a walk around the waterways you’ll see lots of little fishing boats.
Burano’s Once Famous Lace
Burano is famous for its lace. In the 16th century, Burano’s lace was the most sought after in Europe. With its fine, delicate work, Burano lace became known as puno in aria (“points in the air”). Unfortunately its prestigious lace industry collapsed in the 18th century due to foreign competition and the decline in the Republic.
The need for income resulted in the industry being revived in 1872 and in the establishment of a lace-making school, the Scuola dei Merletti. These days, it’s hard to find genuine pieces of work as it takes weeks of hard labour to make them. Visitors will nevertheless be able to watch the local women doing their craft at the school, next door to which is a museum with some antique lace collection.
Even if you’re not interested in lacework, you’ll enjoy exploring this island with its brightly coloured houses, the main feature of the island. Burano is certainly the most picturesque of the lagoon islands. The street from the ferry stop will take you to Via Baldassare Galupppi which is the main thoroughfare. This street was named after a Burano-born composer. When you hit Galuppi Square, you’ll see many shops selling local craftwork, souvenirs and their famous lace.
As you stroll around the island, look out for “Casa deo Bepi Sua” (the house of Joseph Sweaty). You can’t miss this most colourful of houses with geometric shapes painted on it. It’s believed that the colours were used in the past to show where the boundaries of properties are. Others say that the houses were painted in bright colours by the fishermen so that they can see their house from a distance. Whatever, the real story is, this is a charming island.
There are many trattorias, pizzerias and restaurants on Burano, but the special one that we dined at was restaurant Da Romano. The restaurant’s guest list includes many celebrities.
To get to Burano: Catch Vaporetto no. 41 from S. Zaccaria and change to no. 12 at Fondamenta Nove. See here for ACTV Network map. Note: there are less services to Burano than Murano, so plan your trip well.
To get to Torcello: You’ll need to catch a ferry from Burano and allow more time. We missed out on Torcello on our last visit to Venice as we ran out of time.