Updated: Jan 19, 2020
Since we had bought a week's worth of rides on the vaporettos (water buses), we decided to venture out into the lagoon. The boats to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello leave from the Fondamento Nove, which was quite close to where we were staying in Canareggio. Our first stop was Murano, the close-in island famous for glass-making.
Glass shops line the canals in Murano.
Murano became the worldwide capital of glass making in the 16th century when frequent fires in the furnaces of Venice caused the Venetian government to declare glass making legal only in Murano. Having the furnaces concentrated on one island also made it easier to protect the secrets of glass making that had been refined by Venetians in the 13th century. There was a time, in fact, when revealing trade secrets was punishable by death. Visitors are invited now to visit the furnaces for free demonstrations, but since these "freebies" are usually followed by a mandatory visit to the furnace's store, you might prefer to pay two or three Euros to visit a no-obligation demonstration. We've done both, and found the paid one much more informative and fun.
A highly skilled glass maker crafts a fish from a molten blob of glass.
A freshly-made horse bursts into flame when touched by a piece of paper. The demonstration shows that the glass is still incredibly hot.
Busa alla Torre is our favorite restaurant on Murano. Their prix fixe lunch for 15 Euros features three delicious courses including fried calamari and fresh fish.
Our next stop was the island of Torcello, which is often missed by tourists, but which is key for understanding the history of Venice. The island is where the first Venetians settled when they left the mainland in the 600s to escape the invading Barbarians. From there, the settlers branched out to the other islands and eventually established Venice, the future seafaring republic. Of special note on Torcello is the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, a cathedral built in 639. The Byzantine mosaics still dazzle visitors today as they must have more than a thousand years ago.
Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta
The path from the vaporetto to the heart of Torcello follows a quiet canal.
Just minutes from Torcello is the colorful island of Burano. The houses were originally painted in rainbow colors so that weary fishermen would be able to see their own homes long before their boats returned to the harbor. Fishing is still an occupation here, which makes a seafood lunch or dinner in town very appealing. Burano is also known for its history of lace making, which goes back to the 16th century. The lace school has been converted into a museum where you can learn about the art and even see demonstrations. There are also many stores that sell beautiful pillows, dresses, tablecloths and even delicately crocheted earrings.
Burano is an island of multi-colored houses, fishing boats and lace-makers.