“Color is like music. It uses a shorter way to get to our senses to awaken our emotions.”
~ Sign on a house in Burano
OK. I lied again. I was going to tell you about non-gondola transportation in Venice today, but I decided I needed to show you Murano and Burano instead. “Islands” in the Venetian lagoon, Murano and Burano are accessible by water taxi, vaporetto (water bus), or private boat.
(NOTE: Click the smaller photos to enlarge them.)
Murano lies less than a mile north of Venice and consists of seven islands connected by bridges. You undoubtedly know of this town because of its reputation for glassmaking. Do you know the history, though?
The glassmakers originally lived and worked in Venice proper, but in 1291, the Venetian Republic ordered them to move their operations to Murano. The governing body feared that the fires from the glass furnaces would ignite huge infernos on the “mainland,” so they wanted to remove the danger. To protect the secrets of Venetian glassmaking, the Republic forbid glassmakers from leaving Venice.
Glassmakers became “prominent” citizens and were permitted to wear swords and enjoy privileges of the upper class. They could marry their daughters in to society families, also. Remember there was a class system at the time.
The Venetian glassmakers are responsible for discovering the technique to make optically clear glass in addition to several others: smalto (enamelled glass), aventurine (glass with threads of gold), millefiori (thousand flowers or multicolored glass), and lattimo (milk glass). They even made imitation gemstones of glass. Should you get to Murano and want to buy authentic Murano glass, be sure to look for the “Vetro Artistico Murano” trademark.
Many people mistakenly believe that Mazzorbo is Burano, but it is actually an island on its own that connects with Burano by the ponte longo (long bridge). Today, the Bisol family, known for their superb Prosecco, has restored an old estate—Venissa. There they grow dorona, golden grapes that are indigenous to the island—and the grape of wine Venetian royalty once drank. Because the grapes are so rare, the wine made from them is very expensive—upwards of $200 per bottle.
Venissa is also home to fruit orchards and vegetable gardens that supply work to people who live on the island and produce to the island’s Michelin-starred restaurant. In addition to the restaurant, Venissa also has a small hotel (six rooms) for visitors.
Like Venice, Burano is an archipelago of islands (four) connected by bridges (Most like the one in the above photo). While Murano’s main attraction is its glass, Burano’s popularity is due to its lace, food, and colors. Mike and I didn’t visit Burano on our first trip to Venice, but I went alone in 2014 and fell in love with the island’s homes and vibe.
Legend has it that the ancient fishermen of Burano painted their houses bright colors so that they could see them while they were fishing out at sea. The houses, which are mostly rectangular and two- or three-stories high, follow a special color palette. Island residents who want to paint their houses must send a letter to government officials, and they reply with a list of colors from which the resident can choose one to paint his house. The different colors indicate the different property owners.
The first time I went to Burano, I just walked the island and delighted in the atmosphere. The colors were breathtaking and such a change from other places in both Italy and the US. I wandered up and down alleys and bridges trying to take it all in. Since there are no cars on the island, residents and workers carry things from one end to the other via boat or handcart. I watched one man maneuver his little boat into a spot in front of a restaurant, grab a net of fresh fish, and take them in for the cook. A little later, I saw men pull up in a larger boat, load what looked like linens onto a handcart, and run them to a different place of business.
I noticed two things that really interested me: First, I noticed that a majority of the residents had their front doors open, but they hung sheets over the opening to keep the bugs—and prying tourist eyes—out. It always amazed me that the people in the little towns here are still so trusting that they keep their doors open. Sheets or curtains hang over the front opening to keep out critters and let in fresh air.
The second thing that caught my eye was the laundry. On my first visit, I thought that Monday must be laundry day on Burano because so many residents had theirs hanging out to dry. From the upstairs windows, across alleys, on dryers in front of houses, laundry hung all over the island. My husband, who once hung his clothes on a community line above a street in Venice, would have loved it.
Burano is home to roughly 2000 full-time residents. While its main source of income is tourism, Burano still boasts numerous fishermen who bring their catch in each evening. The island is most popular for its beautiful, delicate lace which takes weeks to complete. Like the glass of Murano, the lace of Burano is now copied and cheaply made in China. If you want to buy an authentic piece of lace from the island, it is not going to be cheap. An authentic handkerchief, for example, can cost upwards of $50. (If you note in the photo above, the homeowner is selling lace directly from her home window. It is, undoubtedly, not authentic.)
Since my first visit to Burano in 2014, I’ve returned four-or-five times. I can’t wait for number six.