on February 18, 2007
The island of Murano sits to the north-east of Venice itself. Almost a miniature of Venice it comes complete with a Grand Canal, at least one outstanding church, and the inevitable tourists. But one thing above all attracts them - glass. In 1291 Venice's glass furnaces were moved to Murano to contain the risk of fires. Already Venice had achieved a reputation as the paramount site for glass artifice. Practically imprisoned on Murano, the craftsmen whose wares brought such high prices were allowed to marry into nobility and wear swords, but were forbidden from leaving the island for fear that they might take the secrets of their art with them. Their legacy lives on today. The main route up the Fondamenta dei Vetri from the Colonna veporetto stop and around to the Museo Vetrario is lined with salesrooms displaying their technicolour wares. Thankfully, sales techniques are very low-key - by coming to Murano you have already admitted that you are looking to buy. Pressure from salespersons is not very apparent. The larger finer pieces can reach astonishing prices, but you can get paperweights, clocks and bottle-stoppers from €10 up. For me the bright multicoloured souvenirs can look very garish, but there is clearly a market for them. The trick is in browsing around - prices vary. Buying direct on Murano saves you money from the prices in the showrooms around St Mark's Square in Venice, plus you are guaranteed that these are official Murano products, not cheap imports.The Museo Vetrario (entrance free with Venice Card, €4 otherwise) showcases some of the finest works - principally the the 15th century Barovier marriage cup. Exhibits range from the delicate and simple to the ghastly and showy (mostly the more modern works). It is closed on Wednesdays.One place not to miss, and in my opinion the second finest church in all Venice (after the Basilica) is the church of Maria e Donato up past the Museum. It is a twelfth-century Romanesque construction of warm honey-hued stone. I found the church empty, silent and peaceful, though it is obviously still a focal point of the parish. There are a couple of icons, a superb mosaic floor, and some bones hanging behind the altar - supposedly those of a dragon killed when St Donatus spat at it! There is also a stunning modern baptismal font fashioned of multicoloured Murano glass. Peering into its shiny depths is like looking into a glowing kaleidoscope. I envy any baby baptised there.
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