The lagoon island of Murano is a miniature Venice and has been the historic heart of Venetian glass production for over 800 years, reaching its peak between the 15th and 16th centuries.
Historically, Murano owes its prosperity entirely to glass. From the late 13th century, when the population numbered over 30,000, Murano enjoyed self government, minted its own coins, and had its own Golden Book listing members of the Aristocracy.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was the principal glass-producing centre in Europe. Murano’s glass artisans were granted unprecedented privileges, but for those who left the island to found businesses elsewhere, severe penalties were applied, usually death, Executions, ordered in secret by the Council of Ten, were carried out using poison or the dagger.
Although a few of Murano’s palazzi bear testimony to its splendour, and its ancient basilica devoted to San Donato still survives, most tourists visit for the glass alone. Some are enticed by offers of free trips from factories in San Marco, others go by excursion launch or independently on the vaporetti.
Some of the factories are now defunct, but glass is still produced in vast quantities. It pays to seek out the top glass factories for some wonderful pieces. Many furnaces, however, close at weekends.
A main attraction of a trip to Murano is a demonstration of glass-blowing techniques. Visitors can watch while a glass-blower takes a blob of molten paste on the end of an iron rod and, by twisting, turning and blowing, miraculously transforms it into a vase, bird, lion, wine goblet or other work of art. The display is followed by a tour of the showroom and a certain amount of pressure from the sales people, but there is no obligation to buy.