The Island of Murano
The Island of Murano, located in the northern lagoon, is world famous for its glass-making industry; attracting many tourists.
It is composed of seven small islands, linked by bridges and eight channels. It lies about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) north of Venice and measures about 1.5 km (0.9 mi) across with a population of around 5,000 people. Once independently governed, it is now a part of the comune of Venice.
Popular trips away from the city include: combining a visit to Murano with the Venetian Cemetery on Isola di San Michele; Murano and Burano and finally a three island trip to Murano, Burano and Torcello. The latter is a full day’s excursion, widely available at a low price with on-board information and great for those with limited time, staying in Venice.
The island of Murano – INTRODUCTION
Isola di Burano, is renowned for its lace work and picturesque brightly coloured homes. Its primary economy is now tourism and is a popular destination; often combined with a visit to the other significant islands of Murano and Torcello,
It is a small and almost circular island, only 0.2 km² in size; but now has around 2500 inhabitants. No island in the lagoon of Venice, has a higher population density, so there are few green spaces.
Burano is about 11 kilometres, north-east of Venice and can be reached in only 45 minutes,by frequent water bus services from the city.
Fortunately, Burano has still preserved some of the charm and character of a fishing village, until today. Every point of the island can be reached by foot in about 10-15 minutes from the vaporetto stop. There are no cars or motorbikes on Burano.
However, Burano is connected by a single bridge, with the neighbouring island of Mazzorbo. It is about the same size, but sparsely populated. Here the inhabitants of Burano can find peace, with many green spaces and no cars – only bicycles.
Originally, there were five islands and a fourth canal that was filled-in to become the main street and square of Baldassare Galuppi; joining the former islands of San Martino Destra and San Martino Sinistra. Galuppi, was a famous Italian composer and musician.
Burano has historically been subdivided into five sestieri, much like Venice. The sixth sestiere is neighbouring Mazzorbo.
|San Mauro||6.8 ha|
|San Martino Sinistra||4.4 ha|
|San Martino Destra||5.1 ha|
|Burano (Island)||21.1 ha|
Murano was initially settled by the Romans and from the sixth century by people from Altinum and Oderzo, escaping barbarian invasion.
At first, the island prospered as a fishing port and through its production of salt. It was also a centre for trade through the port it controlled on Sant’Erasmo in the southern lagoon. From the 11th century, it began to decline, as islanders moved to the Dorsoduro, Venice.
It had a Grand Council, like that of Venice, but from the 13th century, Murano was ultimately governed by a “podestà” from Venice. Unlike the other islands in the Lagoon, Murano actually minted its own coins.
Early in the second millennium monks of the Camaldolese Order, occupied one of the islands close by; seeking a place of solitude for their way of life. They founded the Monastery of St. Michael (Italian: San Michele di Murano).
This monastery became a great centre of learning and printing. The famous cartographer Fra Mauro, was a monk of this community, whose maps were crucial to the European exploration of the world. After the fall of the Republic under Napoleon and his forces, the monastery was suppressed in 1810 and in the course of their conquest of the Italian peninsula; the monks were eventually expelled in 1814. San Michele, then became Venice’s major cemetery.
In 1291 because of fire risks, all the glassmakers in Venice were required to move to Murano. In the following century, exports began and the island became famous, initially for glass beads and mirrors.
Left: Satellite view of Venice, Isola di San Michele (Cemetery) and Murano at centre left.
Aventurine glass, was invented on the island and for a while Murano was the main producer of glass in Europe. The island later became known for chandeliers. Although decline set in during the 18th century, glassmaking is still the island’s main industry; attracting many tourists.
In the 15th century, the island became popular as a resort for wealthy Venetians and palaces were built; but this later declined. The countryside of the island was known for its orchards and vegetable gardens until the 19th century, when more housing was built.
Attractions on the island include the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato, known for its 12th century Byzantine mosaic pavement and said to house the bones of the dragon slain by Saint Donatus in the 4th century. Also of interest, is the church of San Pietro Martire; with the chapel of the Ballarin family built in 1506 and artworks by Giovanni Bellini. The gothic Palazzo da Mula on Murano’s “Grand Canal” is well preserved and a significant historic building.
Glass-related attractions, include the many glassworks with most open to the public and also the Murano Glass Museum, housed in the large Palazzo Giustinian.
Murano is composed of seven islands, linked by bridges over eight channels.
GETTING THERE – Overview of Vaporetto lines serving Murano.
Please check all availability of services due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Line 3. From the Piazalle Roma (bus station) and Santa Lucia (rail terminal), direct to Murano. About 25-40 minutes. The centre of Murano, is the Museo (Glass Museum) stop. Runs every 20 to 30 minutes and only during the day.
Line 4.1. and 4.2.. These lines circle the island of Venice and make a detour to Murano. The important difference between the lines is that the vaporetto line 4.1. circles outside Venice anti-clockwise, the ferries of line 4.2. clockwise. When circling Venice, the vaporetti of these two lines stop about 20 times; a round trip of the island Venice with 20 stops and the detour to Murano can take about 2 hours. The waterbus lines 4.1. and 4.2., both run at least every 20 minutes during the day.
If you want to combine the cemetery island of San Michele with Murano you have to take the lines 4.1. and 4.2., because only these lines stop there. So, it may be best to walk to the Fondamente Nuove. Travel time is then about 5 minutes.
Line 7. This line was an express line directly from San Marco (bus stop near Piazza San Marco) to Murano. Since Covid-19, it has been discontinued, but is expected to run again when the number of tourists in Venice increases significantly.
Line 12. This waterbus line is the “Venice Island Express”. It connects Venice (only stop Fondamente Nove with Murano (Faro- lighthouse stop) and then continues on to the islands of Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello.
Burano and Mazzorbo are connected by a pedestrian bridge, so you can go to one island and return from the other. This ferry line runs every 30 minutes. Every second boat (every hour) goes to Treporti and Punta Sabbioni (with bus connection to Jesolo).
Line 13. From Fondamente Nuove to Murano (Faro) and then on to the islands of Sant Erasmo (3 stops) and Vignole. These latter two islands are agricultural and are rarely visited by most tourists. The water buses of the line 13, go back the same way. The vaporetti go only once per hour in both directions.
****For a full account, see my illustrated post “History of Venetian Glass” – See link below.
Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings; ordered glassmakers to move their furnaces to Murano in 1291.
Murano’s glassmakers were soon numbered among the island’s most prominent citizens. By the 14th century, glassmakers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state and found their daughters married into Venice’s most affluent families.
While benefiting from certain statutory privileges, glassmakers were forbidden to leave the Republic. However, many of them took the risks associated with migration and established glass furnaces in surrounding cities and farther afield; for instance in England and the Netherlands.
Murano’s glassmakers held a monopoly on high quality glassmaking for centuries, developing or refining many technologies including optically clear glass, enamelled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicoloured glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo) and imitation gemstones. Venice strove to protect the trade secrets of production of glass and fine crystal.
Today, the artisans of Murano still employ these centuries-old techniques; crafting everything from contemporary art glass and jewellery; to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers.
Unfortunately, the Republic partially lost its monopoly at the end of the 16th century, as trade secrets were revealed to other European countries.
Today, Murano is home to the “Museo del Vetro” or Murano Glass Museum, in the Palazzo Giustinian; with displays on the history of glassmaking, ranging from Egyptian times to the present day.
Some of the companies that own historical glass factories in Murano, are among the most important brands of glass in the world. These companies include Venini, Alessandro Mandruzzato, Ferro Murano, Barovier & Toso, Simone Cenedese and Seguso.
To protect the original Murano Glass art from foreign markets, the most famous glass factories of this island have a trademark; that certifies genuine Murano glass products. The Veneto Region protects and promotes the designation of origin of artistic glassworks created on the island of Murano; since glasswork is an inherent part of Venetian historical and cultural heritage.
The oldest Murano glass factory that is still active today is that of Pauly & C. – Compagnia, Venezia Murano, founded in 1866.
COMETA DI VETRO
In front of the campanile of Santo Stefano, sits the “Cometa di Vetro” by Simone Cenedese; an impressive and grand example of Murano Glass. It is a modern symbol of Murano and its glassmaking; being an arrangement of glass spikes in varying shades of blue.
It is particularly impressive at night, when illuminated.
LINK TO WARSAW
In the 17th century, the Murano-born Simone Giuseppe Belotti (Polish: Szymon Józef Bellotti), became Royal Architect to the King of Poland and took part in designing some of Warsaw’s most important landmarks. The palace he built for himself was named after his native island, “Muranów” and subsequently this palace; eventually gave its name to the entire surrounding district.
Muranów was and remains today, one of Warsaw’s most well-known areas, especially associated with the city’s Jewish history.
1. SAN PIETRO MARTIRE
The original church and Dominican monastery, dedicated to St John the Baptist; was built from 1363 and consecrated in 1417. A tablet on the far right of the facade commemorates this.
This church burned down in 1474 and was rebuilt and enlarged; reopening in 1511 and dedicated to St Peter Martyr.
During Napoleonic suppression, the church was closed in 1806, the monastery taken over by the military and its art moved to the Accademia Gallery.
It reopened in 1813, as a parish church due to an initiative by Father Stefano Tosi; with art from other suppressed churches and monasteries on Murano and other islands. At its reopening the church was renamed S. Pietro e Paolo, but reverted to its present name in 1840.
The Renaissance facade is in brickwork, divided in three sections and with a 16th-century portal, which is surmounted by a large rose window.
The colonnade attached to the west flank of the church, came from the demolished convent of Santa Chiara; being reassembled here in 1924, during the restoration of 1922-28. During this period, it saw the restoration of the original ceiling and the frescos of the saints above the pillars.
It is currently one of the two main parish churches in the island of Murano.
The impressively spacious and tall interior, has a nave and two aisles; which are divided from each other by rows of four arches. The spandrels between the arches are nicely decorated with saints, tie beams across the arches and the nave with a trussed roof. There’s a wide and deep half-domed chancel and a pair of apsidal chapels. In addition those there are two other smaller altars, one for each side aisle.
There was once a church and scuola of San Giovanni dei Battuti on Murano. Use of the term ‘Battuti’ or ‘the beaten’, refers to flagellant orders. The complex was demolished and some paneling, carved by Pietro Morando; was removed from the scuola and installed in the sacristy here in 1815. Paintings from the scuola were installed above the dossals. The sacristy is part of the church’s museum in which for a small fee; you can see some displaced altarpieces, various reliquaries, odd documents and plush vestments.
A work that many scholars attribute to Tintoretto, the “Baptism of Christ”, is visible in the right aisle. In the same nave there are also two works by Giovanni Bellini: “Assumption of the Virgin and eight saints”, dating from 1510-1513 and the “Barbarigo” altarpiece depicting the Virgin and Child, two musical angels, St. Augustine and St. Mark, presenting the doge Agostino Barbarigo. The latter work dates back to 1488 and was transferred here from the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
On the right side of the presbytery is the chapel of the Ballarin family, dedicated to Saints Joseph and Mary, and better known as the “Chapel of the Ballarins of Murano“. The chapel was built by Giorgio Ballarin, a famous glass-man, who was buried there in 1506 and intended for himself, family and descendants.
The chapel also houses the funeral monument dedicated to the Great Cancellier of the Republic of Venice, Giovanni Battista Ballarin; who died on September 29, 1666 in Isdin, Macedonia. Also the tomb of his son, Domenico Ballarin, also a Great Cancellier of the Republic of Venice; who died on November 2, 1698.
It should be noted that in the Ballarin Chapel of Murano, there was a Pala di Giovanni Bellini of 2 x 3 metres size, that was commissioned by the sons of Zorzi. It depicted the martyrdom of the Dominican Fathers, in which from afar you can see Milan. Now this Altarpiece is located at the National Museum of London.
In the main chapel (presbytery) there are the “Wedding of Canaan” and the “Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes”,works by Bartolomeo Letterini and the “Deposition from the Cross” by Giuseppe Porta called the “Salviati”.
In the chapel of SS. Sacramento”, to the left of the presbytery, there is an altar in lombardesco style, with a relief Ecce Homo from 1495; coming from the destroyed Murano church of Santo Stefano.
From the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, comes a canvas by Paolo Veronese, the “San Girolamoin the desert”, which is located in the right aisle; while on the left one you can see the painting “Sant’Agata in prison visited by St. Peter and an angel”, also from Veronese.
In one of the rooms of the parish museum, are a collection of paintings painted on panel, amongst which is the “Pala dei Barcaioli”, by Giovanni Agostino da Lodi (c. 1500); a work that testifies to the spread of Leonardo’s influence in Venice.
Built 1498-1502. The original bells came from England but have been recast many times since, most recently in 1942 after war damage.
Monday-Saturday 9.00 – 12.00am, 3.00 – 6.00pm Sunday 3.00 – 6.00pm
2. SANTA CHIARA
It is thought that there has been a church on this site as early as 1231. Augustinian monks settled here and later around 1369, Benedictine nuns. Observant Franciscan Sisters of St. Clare were next and in 1519, started on major renovations.
The complex was subjected to Napoleonic suppression in 1826 and converted for use as a glass factory and warehouse, by Fratelli Marietti from Milan.
In the 1880’s the church was bought by the Barone Franchetti, who divided the interior into two floors.
Abandoned since the 1970’s, the church was comprehensively collapsing as a rubbish store for the Murano Glass Museum; until 2011 when the Belluardo Family bought it and began considerable renovation work.
The church recently re-opened ‘offering an innovative and interactive historic museum-shop‘, but with little of the original church about it.
His famous lover, the nun M.M., is said to have lived in Santa Chiara’s convent; using the Casinò Mocenigo next door, for their secret trysts.
3. SANTA MARIA DEGLI ANGELI
The church was re-established by Giacomina Boncio in 1188, together with an adjoining Augustinian convent, on an ancient site for nuns who had fled from Treviso; escaping the invading Hungarians lead by King Lajos.
It was demolished, rebuilt and enlarged between 1494 and 1529, when the church was reconsecrated. It was funded by the Barbarigo family, specifically Agostino; who served as procurator here and was later elected Doge.
The church was then united to the monastery of Santa Maria di Piave in Lovadina, in the province of Treviso, which enriched the building. Henry III of France visited it in 1574.
Following Napoleonic suppression in 1810, the important art was moved to San Pietro Martire, the nun’s choir (barco) was demolished and the choir and organ removed by 1830.
In 1832 the monastery was demolished and the church closed in 1849. Fortunately, the church was saved and underwent restoration in 1861 and was reconsecrated in 1863.
Between 1871-2, the area that had been occupied by the barco, was walled off and a three-story premise for a charitable organisation was built. Much renovation has taken place in recent years.
The church is approached through a portal, over which is an early 16th century bas-relief of “The Annunciation”, possibly by pupils of Donatello and described as ‘graceful’ by Ruskin, .
The interior shows an aisleless nave and has lost its barco (nun’s gallery). However, it appears to have been subject to recent restoration.
The ceiling is of thirty-nine painted panels by Nicolò Rondinelli (c.1495) from Ravenna, an assistant of Giovanni Bellini. They depict “Prophets, Apostles and The Evangelists and The Doctors of the Church” around a central panel of “The Coronation of the Virgin”. Also seen are works by Palma Giovane and Alessandro Vittoria. “The Annunciation” (1537-1538) over the high altar, was commissioned from Pordenone; after the nun’s baulked at the price demanded by Titian; for a work depicting the same subject.
Due to the monastery’s close connections with many Venetian aristocratic families much fine art was commissioned; but has either been removed to other churches, the Accademia or lost.
Doge Sebastiano Venier, the hero of Lepanto, was buried here; however, his remains were later moved to San Zanipolo.
The Casanova connection
One of Casanova’s great loves, Caterina Capretta (C.C.) became pregnant and was removed to the convent here, of which little remains but some walls. Apparently, her brother had attempted to sell her and/or her virginity to Casanova.
She was one of two women made pregnant by Casanova at this time (Spring 1753). Note-passing and visits ensued, assisted by a nun called Laura; who Casanova would meet in San Cancian, until ‘C.C.’ had a miscarriage.
His visits continued and later he would begin having assignations with another, more libertine, nun called M.M. at the nearby convent of Santa Chiara.
He was often to be found at mass in the church here, under the eyes of both his mistresses who were, according to Casanova; themselves lovers!
For services only
****Please see my detailed and fascinating post on “Casanova – Life and Times“: HERE
4. SANTI MARIA E DONATO
Legend has it that this church was built by “Otho the Great”, to whom the Virgin appeared and told him “to build her a church in a three-cornered meadow, scattered with scarlet lilies”.
A document dated 999, says that refugees from the mainland founded this church in the 7th century and dedicated it to the Virgin.
The church was re-dedicated when the body of Saint Donatus, the patron saint of Murano, was brought here from Cephalonia in 1125, by Doge Domenico Michiel; along with the bones of a dragon the saint had slain.
This date also seems to be when the church was built in its current form, with the work completed in 1141; a date recorded on the mosaic floor.
Some of the remains of San Gerardo Sagredo were moved here in 1333 and the urn is taken to San Giorgio Maggiore, every hundredth anniversary of his departure; to spend a night there.
Baroque redecoration followed in the 18th century and then a restoration between 1858 and 1873; attempted to return the church to its previous appearance, with major rebuilding of the apse. This restoration was condemned for ‘bastardising‘ the church, so that it was neither 12th or 18th century in appearance; but a bad mixture of the two!
Fortunately, a lot of this work was reversed during later restoration, especially in the 1970’s; leaving the church very much as it would have appeared in the 12th century.
Exterior. Built from brick and terracotta, the lovely two-tiered blind arcaded apse seen across the campo and canal; is usually one’s first, wonderous view of this church. The plain facade, around the back to the left, is frankly disappointing in comparison.
Interior. Here the basic basilica plan, as seen in the Cathedral on Torcello, has an added transept, to form a Latin cross. The nave is separated from aisles, by two rows of Greek marble columns with Veneto-Byzantine capitals and brick detailing around the arches and windows.
The church is tall and quite bare, with a 15th century ship’s-keel roof and no side chapels. There are damaged frescoes behind the altar and in the apse’s half dome there is a 12th century mosaic of “The Virgin”.
The wonderful polychrome “opus sectile” mosaic pavement, contemporary with that of San Marco and quite possibly the work of the same craftsmen; was restored and completely re-laid in the 1970’s.
The high altar contains the remains of Saint Donatus and behind the altar hang the four bones of the dragon, he supposedly slew by spitting at it.
A 14th century polyptych of the “Dormition of the Virgin” is over the high altar. The lunette from over the main door and now over the left-hand entrance; is of “The Virgin and Child with Saints Donatus and John the Baptist and a donor”.
A carved and painted panel depicting San Donato from 1310, (possibly by Paolo Veneziano), is in the Venice Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art at Sant’Apollonia.
A music manuscript of 1325, which possibly belonged to this church is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It having originally been here, is indicated by it having texts relating to Saints Donatus and Gerard and the latter’s relics being in the church.
Detached Romanesque 12-13th century.
Monday-Saturday 8.30-12.00, 4.00-7.00
PALAZZO DA MULA
On the Canal Grande of Murano, just a few steps away from Ponte Vivarini; Palazzo da Mula is a fine example of a Venetian Gothic palace. Dating back to the 12th or 13th century, but extensively remodelled, it maintains the splendid facade almost unaltered; with remains of Venetian-Byzantine decoration of considerable artistic interest, such as pateras and tiles.
It was remodelled and used as the summer home of the da Mula family; continuing the Venetian nobility’s tradition of moving away from Venice during the summer. The family had acquired the palace from the aristocratic Diedo family in 1621.
The Da Mula resided in this palace until 1712, when it was rented to the aristocratic family of Giacomo Fontanella, member of the new aristocracy of master glazers. The property then passed to Giacomo’s son, Zuanne Fontanella.
The building is now the branch office of the Municipality of Venice-Murano-Burano and houses the registry offices. The main floor is used for cultural activities.
The lighthouse in Murano was built in 1912 and is still in use today. It is not open to the public, but you can certainly appreciate the pearl-white structure from the surrounding area. It is located next to Murano’s ” Faro” vaporetto stop.
Please see my other related posts in the category of Islands of the Lagoon
For a full account, see my post History of Venetian Glass
The Island of Murano The Island of Murano The Island of Murano The Island of Murano