Murano is the most famous of the Venetian Islands, and the most visited courtesy of the famous glass-works that produce the popular “Murano Glass”. The people of Venice have been making crystal and glass since the 10th Century, when the Venetian merchants brought back the secrets of production from the East. You can visit Murano on Boat Tour from Venice.
A 9 minute water boat ride from the Fondamente Nuove or thirty minute ride from St. Marks , north of Venice, is located the island of Murano. This is where everyday life revolves around the glass making industry. Water plays a large role in life on Murano probably more so than in Venice and they have their own grand canal. The only bridge is ‘Ponte Longo', made of iron and built in 1866.
The oldest preserved evidence for the existence of the glass blower dates back to 982 and is found in Venice's archives. Documented evidence shows that in 1279, it was confined to the ‘rio dei Vetrai' where even today are located the oldest glass factories. The fortune of Murano came in 1291 when the glass makers were invited to leave Venice and move all the furnaces onto the island of Murano. This is a means of security to avoid the hazard of fire which would be very dangerous for Venice. Therefore the island became the most important centre for the glass industry in all of Europe until the XVII century.
Venice has been the protagonist in the history of glass pearls (conterie) from around 1200 to 1950, with the monopoly of their production. They are pearls obtained by working over a flame and were used like money for exchange with natives of colonial states. Glass workers were prohibited to emigrate from Venice with the threat of confiscation of property. The Republic didn't want competition arising from rival schools. Despite this some teachers managed to emigrate illegally to Florence, London and to the rest of Europe.
The fall of the Serenissima Republic, was accompanied by the decline of the craft of glasswork. The rebirth was encouraged in the mid 1800's by the Barovier, Toso, Seguso, Salviati families. The production is still today a handicraft and the majority of businesses have from 2-5 artisans even though some have 50-60 employees.
The method of manufacture is the same, there are no machines and what counts is the ability and breath of the artisan. Every company had their own formula which up until the 1800's was secret, but with the advent of chemistry and research institutions these were no longer unknown.
In the past the glass blower would show his expertise with intricate objects, however today they are no longer so complicated because articles would be too expensive.
It usually takes 3-4 people to finish an object, but in a large scale company it can be as many as 18. Artisans create objects of every colour, but only experts know how to obtain variants of red and yellow, the most difficult colours to obtain.
Articles range from vases to unique pieces, statues to animals. The variety of glass in Murano is vast and can be quite expensive. Pieces signed by Barovier & Toso, Venini, and Carlo Moretti are a guarantee of international fame.
There are also over 100 small businesses who work glass by candlelight and therefore don't require the furnace. They produce small pieces and souvenirs.
How to get to Murano:
• Public Transportation - The island can be reached by public transportation by the water-bus # 52 from Piazzale Roma or San Zaccaria ( near St Marks), or the 12, 13 or 52 from the Fondamenta Nuove.