Murano: the Island of Glass

Canalside, Murano

Murano glass is known the world over. On the cable and satellite channels there are even programmes just selling the jewellery. Tourists cross from Venice to shop there, visit the glassblowers and see an island which seems more like a village where people live. As you walk along the canalside here, there are boats moored all the way. This is a working community. This is how the locals get around.

It is still as touristy as Venice itself, but much quieter, less crowded and gives the impression of having a slower pace of life. Most of the shopkeepers speak English and enough words in other languages to get by. It is no more expensive than Venice nor is it cheaper. Most of the items that you can buy on Murano, you can also buy in Venice. The difference is that some of the larger chandeliers aren’t available, you can’t see the glassworks or the public sculptures like Comet Glass star by Simone Cenedese.

Getting to Murano is easy. From Ferrovia (the railway station) or Piazzale Roma (where the buses come in) there is a vaporetto (water bus) called DM which runs a direct service and which takes about 20 minutes. From St Marks it takes about twice as long because it stops at so many places. If you have a tourist travel pass, it costs no more. If you buy a ticket then it costs the usual €6.50 each way.

Murano old buildings

Once you arrive don’t be surprised (particularly at weekends) if a man points you towards a glass blower’s studio. There will be glass souvenirs ranging from a euro or two for a glass animal or a bottle stopper to cufflinks for €5 and then up to thousands of euros for pots and designer glassware. How do you know you are buying genuine Murano glass? There is a lot of Chinese glass around and some shops will display signs saying they don’t sell Chinese glass. I am not sure I always believe them, particularly since some seems so cheap. If it has a label, comes from one of the more expensive galleries or carries the words Vetro Artistico Murano or Veneziano then you are on surer ground. (But there are fake labels.) There have been cases of retailers being prosecuted for passing off Chinese glass as that from Murano. A certificate of authenticity is probably the safest option particularly if you are paying a considerable sum of money. I’m sure, over the years, I have bought Chinese glass as small souvenirs. The trouble is that if you pay a small price just for a souvenir, you are hurting true Murano glass and encouraging those sellers in search of a fast buck. At least by buying from a recognized gallery or glassblower on the island, you have a greater chance of the genuine article.

And while you are wandering around, pop into the Church of St Peter the Martyr (Chiese di San Pietro Martire) where, apart from two Tintoretto’s, you will find 10 glass candelabras hanging from the ceilings, four each side and two at the front. In comparison with some of the multi-coloured variety these are a bit plain but these are big by anyone’s standards and show how difficult the art of manipulating glass into shapes of this size may be. (There are signs saying that knees and shoulders should be covered when entering churches but I never saw it being enforced, even on Sundays.)

Murano – comet glass star

To publicise the glass industry you will find some public sculptures made out of a glass like Comet Glass Star by Simone Cenedese or Denise Gemin’s Vitae from the Studia Formia. Why, oh why, these are publically displayed and then surrounded by something as tacky as metal barriers of the sort used for crowd control is beyond me. You would have thought that the artists would have objected and would have wished for something more aesthetic to show their sculptures at their best. Instead, almost any photograph you take (including the one on Denise Gemin’s own website) has this metal barrier in the shot.

Glass Body, Murano

Where there is so much glass, there must be a museum and the Museum of Glass is next to the Museo vaporetto stop ( numbers DM, 41 or 42 stop there as does the airport link, Alilaguna.) in the Palazzo Giustinian. Compared to some museums and galleries, at €6.50, this is a bargain.

Murano hotels are cheaper than those In Venice (though there are only a few) but food and restaurant prices are about the same. You can find overly priced restaurants here the same as in Venice. Smaller places (usually without air conditioning) or those away from the main streets are better valued. But if you stay here then you are going to have to be prepared to catch a vaporetto or a water taxi to get anywhere.