What to do in Murano, the island of Italian glassmaking

Near Venice, Murano is full of buildings, workshops and churches testifying to its past linked to the glass industry. It's a great destination for people looking for some peace and quiet away from its famous neighbor. Going to Murano will allow you to dive into the heart of Italy, its history and get off the beaten track.

An Island near Venice

The island of Murano is located in the north of Italy, in the middle of the Venice lagoon. This 1.17 km2 space is divided in two by the Canal Grande and makes it a river island, giving it the name “Little Venice”.

The History of Murano

The arrival of the first populations on the island dates back to the 6th century and took the name of Amrianum. From then on, Murano became an important commercial exchange point in the Mediterranean with numerous flows of populations and goods. However, we are witnessing real development on the island from the 13th century with the Venetian glass industry. Inspired by oriental know-how, numerous glassworks flourished in Venice at this time. Threatened by numerous fires and espionage, the authorities decided to relocate the workshops to this island. Since then, this tradition of Murano glass has been passed down from generation to generation. The most telling example is that of the Ballarin family and one of the most famous glassmakers on the island, Giorgio Ballarin born in 1440 to glassmaker parents. After scouring the island's workshops, in 1492 he met the glassmaker Robert de Thysac from Lorraine. They both created a clandestine workshop and mixed their shared knowledge to create exceptional glass, in red, pink and ruby ​​tones which made them the most successful glassmakers of the time. Venetian craftsmanship reached its peak during the Renaissance. The creations spread throughout Europe and Murano's know-how is threatened. Attracting French and European desires, the export of glass stops, production is strongly regulated and monitored. Patents and licenses are difficult to access for master glassmakers and workers who work in the workshops. In the 18th century, glass craftsmanship slowed down. In the midst of the Napoleonic conquest, it was the end of the Republic of Venice. It was at the end of the 19th century that Murano glass craftsmanship regained its nobility and found a second wind.

Murano glass

Since then, Murano glass has been recognized internationally and is exported all over the world. Copied, but never equalled, this exceptional glass constitutes the heart of activity of the Venetian archipelago. It is recognizable by its unique colors, its transparency and its luminosity. A mixture of sand, fire and light, this glass is first blown from a solid or hollow cane, then it is then softened with methane and air. It is at this stage that the artisans model the different objects such as Murano jewelry and leave the mark of manual work: irregularities and water circles.

Visit the island's glassworks

So you understand, visiting a glassworks and observing a blower in action is a must-see if you go to Murano. Discover the demonstrations of these artists during the numerous visits organized on the island. There are currently more than fifteen workshops in Murano which work manually according to the ancestral method and which will allow you to discover the different stages of creating objects, such as a Murano glass light fixture for example.

Venture through the island's magnificent gardens and palaces

To immerse yourself in the history of the Venice lagoon, nothing better than a visit to the island's gardens. This is where rich artisans, nobles and artists met. They appreciated the sweetness and perfumes of Murano like Alduce Manue or Pietro Aretino. The glass industry having allowed the island to develop, the families at its head have seen their fortune grow over the centuries. In fact, until the 18th century, many palaces were located in Murano. However, they were ransacked and destroyed by Napoleon Bonaparte and his army of Italy during the siege of Venice in 1797. However, by venturing to the island you will find their traces in particular at the Murano Museum.

Immerse yourself in the history of glass with the Murano Museum

And for those who want to learn more about the art of glass, the Murano Museum has several thousand pieces of jewelry made on the island, such as Murano rings. Discover early Phoenician designs, ice and glass of all colors. You will discover the capital importance of the island in Venetian and Italian industry over the centuries. To get there for the Vaporetto, you will have the opportunity to admire the Palazzo Giustinian. This Gothic monument which houses the museum, previously welcomed the monks of Murano. With many shops offering murano glass objects, this will also be an opportunity for you to do your shopping and bring back with you superb murano earrings for example!

Bring back Murano objects and jewelry with you

At the exit of the museum, as in the glassworks, you will be offered numerous hand-crafted jewelry. Beware of tourist traps, each object must be certified of its provenance using a certificate or the artist's signature. We advise you to take an interest in the Murrines which are superb local creations. These are rods made up of different successive layers of glass and different colors. These murrines are often used in the creation of murano chandeliers. In addition to demonstrations, you can also participate in workshops to create your own jewelry: bracelet, ring, earrings.

Sail the canals of Murano and Venice

Murano is not really an island, it is an archipelago of islets separated by canals and connected by different bridges. Like Venice, you can travel on gondolas to discover the different activities of the city. The Grand Canal divides the archipelago in two and is crossed by the Ponte Lungo, a bridge that allows you to cross from one bank to the other. You can also opt for the vaporetto to get around. This Bateau Bus network is made up of 4 stations: Fondamenta Venier, Fondamenta da Mula, Fondamenta Museo and Fondamenta Navagero.

The Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Donat

The Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato is the first church built in Murano in the 7th century. Built on Campo Santo Donato, it is the main historical monument of the island. In the 12th century, the body of Saint Donatus was buried there and allowed the reconstruction of the church in a Veneto-Byzantine style. This architectural gem includes reliefs of Saint Donat on its facade. The interior is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and decorated with marble and splendid mosaics.

The churches of the island

The island of Murano also has two churches: San Pietro Martire and Santa Maria degli Angel. The first is a Gothic Dominican church located in the center of Murano. Inside the wooded interior, it has beautiful Murano chandeliers and beautiful paintings painted by local artists. Little advice, take a walk around it as soon as night falls, you can admire it and shine. The second is a Catholic church in the west of the island. Built during the Renaissance, it includes an Augustinian monastery. If from the outside it seems basic, it is known for its magnificent ceiling which once housed a painting by Tintoretto now moved to the Galerie dell'Academia in Venice.

How to get to Murano?

Close to Venice, you can only get there by boat. We therefore recommend opting for a crossing with a public boat or Vaporetto. Shuttles depart every 20 minutes from the Fondamente Nuove stop with lines 12, 13, 4.1, 4.2 and from Piazzale Roma with line 3. Tickets for the return crossing will cost you between 15 and 20 euros from 6 years unless you already hold a Venice City Pass. However, be careful, thousands of tourists take these boats daily to visit Murano but also the other islands of Burano and Torcello. Also remember to buy your tickets a little in advance to avoid queuing at the ticket office. Additionally, we advise you to avoid peak times. In fact, leaving early in the morning or around midday will allow you to avoid large flows of passengers. You can also get there directly from Marco Polo di Venezia Airport (VCE). In fact, from April to October a boat leaves every hour and the crossing takes 30 minutes. The price of the round trip is 15 euros. A good solution if you want to save time.

Where to stay in Murano

If you prefer to enjoy the Venice region in peace, residing in Murano is ideal. Several accommodations are available to you. Let's start with the hotels starting from €100 for a double room: Hotel Al Soffiador: 2-star single rooms, one minute from the ferry terminal, Hotel Conterie: comfortable, rather family-friendly rooms in a traditional Venetian style, Casa sulla Lugana: located at Above the Murano boat stop, Navagero this hotel has a superb view of Venice. However, if you prefer to opt for an individual residence, the island of Murano has many rental apartments. Beocio Home welcomes you with an interior courtyard, a terrace, gardens and a delicious homemade catering offer. You can also opt for the Ca' dei Ferro, a residence with apartments equipped with individual kitchens.

A getaway to the island of lace

Burano is another island in the lagoon. Located in the North, it is also known for one of its know-how: lace production. Made up of 4,000 inhabitants, it looks like Murano with its small houses of all colors, painted by local fishermen to help them find their way in the fog. It is made up of 4 islets: San Mauro, Giudecca, San Martino and Terranova. The development of the island took place during the renaissance with the development of the lace industry and its European export. But like glass, this exchange ceased when Louis XIV banned this exchange and the French began creating lace. Even today, you can watch Italian lacemakers embroidering exquisite works on the island. A short visit to the San Martino church and the lace museum are obligatory stops. A getaway to the island will take you half a day from Murano with line 12.

Immerse yourself in Roman times in Torcello

Almost uninhabited, Torcello is the third island in the archipelago. This is the first inhabited area of ​​the Venice Lagoon. Indeed, from the fourth century, during the fall of the Roman Empire, populations fled the city of Altinum and settled there. This exile was accentuated in the 5th century with numerous barbarian conquests forcing local populations to flee to the island. From the 6th to the 10th century Torcello grew to become the most powerful island in the region. It has around ten thousand inhabitants and around ten churches. However, the island was ravaged by Malaria in the 12th century and gradually declined to the benefit of Venice. If you are passionate about history and particularly the Middle Ages, Torcello is the destination for you with its churches, its mosaics, the throne of Attila and the Devil's Bridge. You now have all the keys in hand to discover Murano and its surroundings, its secrets, its cultural and artistic heritage. We hope that like us, you will find inspiration there and enjoy exploring the magnificent lagoons of this archipelago.