Is Murano famous?

Yes. Since ancient times people have paid an almost mystic attention to glass, attributing something magical and supernatural to this transparent material. Magicians predicted the future by gazing into a crystal sphere and chemists and alchemists studied prisms in search of a stone which would turn metal into gold. Like the fire that gave life to the popular belief of the Phoenix (the mythological bird with the golden plumes) glass became synonymous with beauty.

Even now visitors to Murano find the same scenes which inspired writers and legends. The furnace structures have remained largely unaltered over time and new technology is rarely found. All this is because of the attachment the craft workers have toward tradition. They seem to have frozen in time over more than a thousand years of history. 

The origins of the art of glass blowing in Venice can be traced back to the 7th Century. This is confirmed by a document written by a Benedict monk named Domenico who manufactured phials for use in the home. The technique used to make the phials was that of blowing into glass using the same instruments Roman glassblowers had invented before passing them down through the ages. It is presumed that the technique was refined in Venice more than elsewhere in Europe because of its trading contacts with the Orient and with peoples that had an ancient tradition in glass blowing including the Syrians and the Egyptians. This mix of traditions gave Venetian production a uniqueness that has made its glass so important throughout the world.

Murano itself is usually described as an island in the Venetian lagoon, although like Venice itself it is actually an archipelago of islands linked by bridges. It lies about a mile north of Venice and is the most famous 'district' of Venice for glass making, particularly lampworking. It was settled by the Romans and first prospered through fishing and the production of salt before becoming a major port for trade.


Murano in the prospective map by Jacopo de'Barbari
Reproduced with the kind permission of Correr Museum, Venice, Italy.

Murano’s reputation as a centre for glass making was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wood buildings, ordered glass workers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. The glass workers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens. By the 14th Century glass makers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state and found their daughters married into Venice’s most affluent families. Of course, there was a catch: glass workers weren't allowed to leave the Republic. However, some craftsmen escaped and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands.

Murano’s glass workers held a monopoly on quality glass making for centuries, developing or refining many technologies including crystal, enamelled glass (it. smalto), glass with threads of gold or gold dust (it. aventurine), multicoloured glass (it. millefiori) and milk glass (it. lattimo). Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these century-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass to chandeliers and beads for jewellery.