Founded between the 5th and the 7th century, Murano became important after 1291, when glassfurnaces were moved there from Venice. It is usually said that it was to prevent fires in crowdy Venice but it might actually have been done to concentrate glassworkers in one place, making it easier for the authorities to keep an eye on them. The industry and its workers were strictly regulated by the administrators of the government body controlling the glassmaking industry. Workers leaving the island were forbidden from ever working again within the industry on Murano so secrets and skills would stay in Murano.
Murano became the manufacturing centre for Venetian glass and exported it in large quantities to all of Europe, reaching its highest production in the 16th century.
So why is Murano and Venetian glass so famous? Because of its strategic position in the Mediterranean, Venice was in contact with Eastern countries. Romans did make glass but it was moulded and not blown. In fact, glass-blowing was more an Eastern skill. It was imported to Venice through its exchanges with the east.
The popularity of Venetian glass in the 15th and 16th centuries was because of its expertise in producing cristallo (a very clear glass), lattimo (white glass mimicking porcelain), enamelling glass and fine mirrors.
Because of the high demand and the development of glass industries elsewhere, Venice was forced to intensify its production and opened ranks of master and assistant glassblower to non-residents who then received an honorary citizenship of Murano. The Venetian Republic also closed all the glass furnaces on its territory by force in order to concentrate everything on Murano.
The "blocage" of Murano did not last for ever and some glassworkers managed to escape and founded furnaces outside the Republic. Some merchants who worked with Murano set up their own factories in France, Belgium and Austria. Plague killed many workers and people were scared to work in the Venetian Lagoon. To attract them, the employment laws had to be less strict.
Finally, leaded glass appeared and challenged Murano glass, starting in England and Bohemia.
In the 18th century Murano furnaces were forced to close andunemployment grew, as did the discontent. The extensive and restrictive rules set in place by the government could not be maintained by the Republic due to its decline in importance and thus in power.
The occupation first by French and then Austrian troops amost put an end to the glassmaking industry.
Glassmaking in Venice started to rise again under the Italian unification. It started at the end of the 19th century with the Biennale and continued after the World War II .
Today, most of the "tourist glass" is not produced in Murano and its quality is not great. This is why there is now a trademark to protect the image of Murano glass. It also guarantee that the glass has been made using traditional artistic methods born and developed in Murano. Look for VETRO ARTISTICO® MURANO when buying Murano glass.
They are many possibilities to see glassmakers at work in the island. Do not miss that opportunity.
A 15 minutes demonstration gives a good idea of how a furnace is used to melt the glass, how the glass is blown, and how it is shaped with the prongs.
It retraces the entire history of Murano Glass Art.
Murano is not as colourful as Burano but it has some beautiful architecture.
Nearly all of Murano's churches were torn down and during the French and Austrian occupations (1797-1866). Today, only four churches remain.
Basilica of Saint Maria and Donato
Oldest church in Murano and one of the oldest in the lagoon, built in the 10th century in Romanesque, this basilica is a must see and contains many treasures. Visitors usually go only to the part of Murano where all the glass shops are and then hop on a waterbus to Burano or vice versa. They miss an amazing basilica with one of the most beautiful floors I have ever seen, Murano glass chandeliers and a wonderful baptismal font in glass as well.
The floor is a 12th century Byzantine mosaic pavement. The church is said to contain the relics of Saint Donatus of Arezzo. According to the legend, the large bones behind the altar are the bones of a dragon slain by the saint. They are more likely those of large extinct Pleistocene mammals.
San Pietro Martire Bell Tower and blue glass sculpture by Simone Cenedese
Chiesa di San Pietro Martire is decorated with paintings by famous artists such as Veronese, Bellini, Tintoretto...
"Comet Glass Star" was created by master glassmaker Simone Cenedese, who has a workshop and gallery on the island. It was assembled from 500 blown glass elements in six colors and a variety of sizes.
Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli
In the quiet part of Murano, when tourists do not go. Not open often.
Behind the postcard
This is when inhabitants of Murano live. There are also a bunch of gardens.
Murano by night
And many more sights to see...