ITALY  |  Venice, Italy Travel Guide
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The Lagoon Islands

The Lagoon Islands

Murano

Ever since 1291 when Venice’s glass factories were moved to the northern lagoon island of Murano in an effort to reduce the fire hazard that they posed to the city, glass production has continued to evolve into one of the city’s finest contributions.

Although it is not certain exactly when glass production began in Venice, we do know that its flourishing probably had a great deal to do with the Republic’s involvement in trade with the East. By the 13th and 14th centuries, the Republic had regulated the practices of the glassmaking guild through a series of laws addressing everything from the production to the sale and taxing of glass. At one time Venice’s glass-blowing secrets were so heavily guarded that it was illegal for glassmakers to leave Murano for fear of treason.

Today visitors to the lagoon’s most visited island arrive at the La Colonna ferry stop where they are greeted by a flurry of people with fliers advertising glass factories. As you begin your exploration of Murano’s nine less hurried islets, stop into any of the factory showrooms along Fondamenta dei Vetrai for free demonstrations and visits to their workshops and showrooms.

Sightseeing in Murano

Museo del Vetro

A large historical collection of Murano glass is on display in the island’s glass museum and merits a visit for its interesting chronological collection of glassware that dates back as far as the first century AD. The exhibit begins in the ground floor’s archaeological room with a collection of free-blown and mould-blown glass cups, bowls, urns, beakers and jewelry from the first to third centuries AD. Upstairs, exhibits chronicle the science and craft of glassmaking, highlighting various stages of the process, ferri da lavori (tools) and techniques that have evolved over the centuries. Noteworthy are the three oversized Murano glass chandeliers hanging from the frescoed ceiling in the room upstairs and the room’s late 19th-century mosaic portraits. Exhibit descriptions are written in both Italian and English.

Basilica dei Santi Maria & Donato

Erected on the foundations of a seventh- century church, Murano’s Byzantine basilica dates back to the 12th century and is worth visiting for its ornamental mosaic floor from the year 1140.

Burano

The lively fishing village of Burano is a riot of rich and subtle colors, from the ocher, tangerine, lilac and azure houses that line its canals to the creamy handcrafted lace in boutique windows.

Generations of fishermen and lace-makers have made a peaceful life for themselves on this small island, best known for its centuries-old art that is kept alive today by only a handful of skilled artisans. The vibrant town is a much-loved spot for painters.

Sightseeing in Burano

Museo del Merletto

Since the latter part of the 20th century, Burano’s old school of lace has housed a small museum with a collection of lace that documents its highly treasured craft of lace making as far back as the 16th century.

Torcello

When barbarians invaded the mainland in the fifth and sixth centuries, inhabitants from the nearby Roman town of Altino fled to the northern lagoon’s island of Torcello for protection. It flourished over time and became a prosperous residential center, particularly between the seventh and 10th centuries.

Malaria and Venice’s subsequent growth eventually turned Torcello into a ghost town, but not without leaving behind a few impressive monuments that convey a telling story about its past. The island’s population never returned, and today only a handful of people call Torcello home, making it a low-key place.

Sightseeing in Torcello

Santa Maria dell’Assunta

Torcello’s early 11th-century cathedral was built on the foundations of the lagoon’s most ancient monument, a cathedral dating back to 639 AD. Its shimmering Byzantine mosaics are a sharp contrast to this lonely island and justify the trip out here. Adjacent is the 11th-century Church of Santa Fosca.

Museo di Torcello

Torcello’s museum chronicles the island’s history in a series of interesting collections and consists of an archaeological section and a medieval and modern section. The museum’s collection includes bronze pieces and pottery dating back to Greek and Roman antiquity, documents and public records that reflect life on the island and other features that chronicle Torcello’s history and relationship with Venice.

Lido

The once-unoccupied strip of land shielding Venice and its lagoon from the forces of the Adriatic, this was transformed into Venice’s chic seaside resort in the 19th and 20th centuries and has lured the international jet set ever since.

Characterized by tree-lined avenues and Art Deco villas, the Lido is perhaps better known nowadays for its annual film festival than for its beaches that in fact gave the world the international term for beach – lido.

It’s a straight shot from the ferry stop down Lido’s main thoroughfare, Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, to the Marconi promenade and seaside where you’ll find several privately operated beach facilities. If you need a break from camera- toting tourists on mainland Venice, all you’ll need to bring is a bathing suit and these beach facilities will supply the rest, from cabanas, chaise lounges, umbrellas and bathrooms, to bars and various other services (for a fee of course).

Giudecca

During the 16th century, Michelangelo is said to have spent several years in exile on Venice’s largest lagoon island. Sadly, Giudecca is overlooked by many tourists who never explore beyond the realm of the city’s six main districts but those who do are amply rewarded by the fabulous views across the canal to Venice and its colorful residential neighborhoods.

The island is also characterized by several factories, including the Mulino Stucky, and a women’s prison where inmates are given the task of tending a garden, harvesting products and turning them into soaps, creams, deodorants and shampoos.

Sightseeing in Giudecca

Il Redentore

One of Palladio’s two classical masterpieces in Venice, and one of his comparatively few pieces of religious architecture, the 16th-century Redentore Church was built to celebrate Venice’s liberation from the plague. Its luminous interior contains an altar in Baroque style and noteworthy works by Palma il Giovane, Jacopo da Bassano and Veronese.

Last updated December 18, 2010
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