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Murano was settled by the Romans, then from the sixth century by people from Altino and Oderzo. At first, the island prospered as a fishing port and through production of salt. It was also a centre for trade, through the port it controlled on Sant'Erasmo. From the eleventh century, it began to decline as islanders moved to Dorsoduro. It had a Grand Council, like that of Venice, but from the thirteenth century Murano was ultimately governed by a podestà from Venice. Unlike the other islands in the Lagoon, Murano minted its own coins.

In 1291, all the glassmakers in Venice were forced to move to Murano due to the risk of fires . In the following century, exports began, and the island became famous, initially for glass beads and mirrors. Aventurine glass was invented on the island, and for a while Murano was the main producer of glass in Europe. The island later became known for chandeliers. Although decline set in during the eighteenth century, glassmaking is still the island's main industry.

In the fifteenth century, the island became popular as a resort for Venetians, and palaces were built, but this later declined. The countryside of the island was known for its orchards and vegetable gardens until the nineteenth century, when more housing was built.

Attractions on the island include the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato (known for its twelfth century Byzantine mosaic pavement and said to house the bones of the dragon slain by Saint Donatus), the Church of San Pietro Martire with its splendid chapel of the Ballarin family built in 1503, and the Palazzo da Mula. Glass-related attractions include the many glassworks, some Mediaeval and most open to the public, and the Glass Museum, housed in the large Palazzo Giustinian.

Since ancient times men have always paid an almost mystical attention to glass, attributing to the transparencies of such matter something magic and supernatural. The magicians of legends used to foresee the future by means of crystal spheres and chemists and alchemists analysed prisms in the constant search of the philosopher’s stone which could turn metal into gold. Still nowadays, the tourist visiting Murano can find the same sceneries that in past centuries have inspired writers and legends. In fact the structure of furnaces has remained unchanged and technology is present only in little details; all this is due to the devotion that the masters have always shown towards traditions that, like a clock, have always scanned the time during more than one thousand years of history of glassware in Venice. The origins of the glass art in Venice date back to the century preceding the millenary. Some excavations have brought to light some pieces proving the presence of such activity already in the seventh century, both on Torcello and Murano islands. But it was during the twelfth century that the glass art became an organized manufacturing activity. In that period such craft concentrated in Murano island, up to the moment when the Republic decreed the transfer of all the still working furnaces of the historical centre to the island, because of security reasons related particularly to the risk of fire. We can assume that then the techniques were refined in Venice more than elsewhere in Europe thanks to the trade relationships that the Venetians had with the Near East and above all with the countries of ancient glass tradition, such as the Fenix, Syrian and Egyptian peoples. Such tradition represented an opportunity of putting together again western and eastern knowledge and techniques, in order to confer to the lagoon production those features which have made it so important all over the world during many centuries.

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