Five Reasons to Visit Murano, the Home of Venetian Glass |

Five Reasons to Visit Murano, the Home of Venetian Glass

Murano, a cluster of islands in Venice, was the home of the world’s most celebrated glass makers for centuries. Initially learning glass making from Syria and other Middle Eastern artisans, Venetian glass makers broke new ground in design and manufacturing, and in 1291 Venice made all of them move just outside the city’s then-limits to Murano. Once there their skill and innovation made Murano Europe’s recognized leader in glass until the dawn of the 1800s.

Here’s how important glass was to Murano: its glassmasters weren’t allowed to move away, so as to keep their secrets and techniques from spreading elsewhere. They were also some of the few Venetian citizens allowed to bear swords, and were exempt from prosecution, which seems like a pretty good recipe for a lot of glass-related murder. Is that actually true? I have no idea, but the introduction to a glass-blowing demonstration I watched at Murano this week said it was, and either way it sounds sick as hell. Making glass is like a kind of real-life alchemy, and the only thing that could make the masters who do it seem even cooler is if they’re allowed to party with swords with absolutely no repercussions.

Venice can be overwhelming to tourists. It’s a relatively small city but it’s jampacked with amazing, one-of-a-kind activities and sites, and it could be very easy to miss out on something like Murano. Fortunately my best friend, constant traveling companion, and wife is a big glass fan, and had this at the top of her to-do list during our trip to Venice. I’m glad she did, as Murano has a unique, fascinating history that makes an intriguing contrast to the churches, palaces, and art museums you’ll frequent within Venice proper. And it’s a short and affordable trip by water bus, so you can easily fit it into your Venice schedule.

Let’s get more specific, though. Here are five reasons you should visit Murano whenever you’re in Venice.

1. Glass


As I said, Murano was Europe’s undisputed glass capital for roughly half of the second millennium. Murano claims that its artisans made several crucial developments in the history of glassmaking, including aventurine glass (or goldstone), as well as the creation of the first clear glass. Again, is any of this true? A quick Wiki check makes it sound like these techniques were known to Persian glass makers before Murano first developed them, but I respect the hustle of Murano taking the credit for itself. Most likely Europe was unaware this stuff was already happening elsewhere, and so, in perfect European fashion, just decided to say they did it first. Either way the long, rich history of glass making in Murano is undeniable, and can be found in basically every corner and storefront of the town today.

2. Glass


Murano’s glass industry produced a lot of functional and industrial glass, like bottles, mirrors, and other objects that had a useful purpose. It also pioneered glass as an artform, though, and that history of artistic glass is still on full display today. Jewelry, elaborate chandeliers, collectible figurines, and various assorted knick-knacks abound in Murano, both today and throughout its history. Its glassmasters prioritized both function and form, and the result is glass that’s often as beautiful as Venice itself.

3. Glass


When you visit Murano today you’ll find a glass store in almost every building, selling all manner of glass, from cheap trifles and colorful baubles to incredibly expensive glass masterpieces. Glass bought at Murano will cost you a good bit more than similar pieces found within Venice proper, and it’s hard to tell what’s actually locally made in Murano and what’s been cheaply imported from elsewhere and jacked up in price, so shop carefully. Some stores sell glass beads that you can use for your own jewelry, and some will even let you visit the room where glass makers twist, roll, and blow molten glass into the beads and tchotchkes found on their shelves. You can find demonstrations throughout the city, including one at a venue called the Glass Cathedral. The former church hosts half-hour glass-blowing exhibitions that almost feel like a stage magic show, with New Age-y instrumental rock music playing while a glass maker dramatically crafts jars, dolphins, and other trinkets in front of you.

4. Glass


The one must-do every visitor to Murano should have on their list is the Murano Glass Museum. The museum’s primary exhibit traces the history of glass in the region, from ancient fragments uncovered at archeological sites, to the industrial and artistic glass created by Murano’s families of glassmasters starting in the 13th century. You can track the development of glassmaking as an artform, from purely functional creations, through large-scale decorative pieces like chandeliers and the miniature glass cities that were popular with Venice’s wealthiest citizens during the Renaissance, up to the sleek modern design of 20th century artists. The museum also hosts rotating exhibits devoted solely to specific artists or families, and sells a wide range of glass pieces in its gift shop. Make sure you check out the gardens behind the museum, not just to appreciate its collection of art or enjoy its shaded grounds, but to see the Gothic architecture of the palace that houses it.

5. Dogs


Murano was full of dogs the day we went. Just all kindsa good boys and girls all over the place, from chihuahuas and Great Danes to poodles and French bulldogs. It’s a real dog-watching town, which is our favorite kind of town. I just hope they don’t get any of that glass stuck in their tiny little paws.

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