A Tale of Two Islands

How two Venetian archipelagos became vibrant centres of art.  
A Tale of Two Islands
Flanked by multi-hued houses dotting the sleepy Venetian canals, Murano is an archipelago imade of six isles interconnected by bridges. Photo by: MoustacheGirl/ iStock / Getty Images Plus/ Getty Images

As the vaporetto suddenly slows down its pace, the landscape before me bursts into a cacophony of colours that could give a rainbow a complex. As I alight from the water bus, I gaze upon the multi-hued canvas that is Burano, a vibrant island in the Venice Lagoon where every home is painted a different dazzling shade. Home to barely 3,000 people, Burano is a favourite haunt of tourists, along with its more popular and rhyming neighbour, Murano.

An archipelago of small islands connected by bridges, Burano was once a quiet fishing hamlet, which attracted artists including Leonardo da Vinci. According to local lore, the fishermen painted their homes in a wide palette of colours so that they could see them from far away shores, even on a densely foggy day. They even painted their boats the same colour as their homes, so if one were wrecked and found at sea, it would immediately be clear whose family it belonged to.

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Popular for its dainty lace, Burano even houses a museum dedicated to the craft work. Photo by: mychadre77/iStock / Getty Images Plus/ Getty Images

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Murano is famous for its legendary glassmaking artisans. Photo by: Ventura Carmona/ Moment Unreleased/ Getty Images

The colours are blinding. The most colourful house is like a kaleidoscope, covered with vivid geometric designs and patterns and painted in shades of red, orange, blue and pink. This candy-store of a house was once actually owned by a confectioner, who sold sweets in the main square. Bapi or Giuseppe, as he was called, was also a painter — but he was even more interested in cinema. He set up his own theatre outside his home and treated children to cartoons. His home reflects his personality even today.

Burano may look like a lively art gallery, but it is a well-curated one; to paint their homes, residents require permission from the local authorities, who choose the shade keeping in mind the overall aesthetic.

Burano’s legacy goes beyond its colourful appearance. It is the dainty lace made here that put Burano on the world map. Sitting outside their two storeyed homes, young and old women chat as they work with nimble fingers, embroidering a delicate tombolo or “pillow lace.” There is even a school and a museum dedicated to the history of Burano lace, but I am more charmed by the legend behind the craft. According to the story, a siren attempted to seduce a handsome fisherman, but he stayed loyal to his true love. She was so impressed that she gifted him a beautiful, sheer wedding veil, created out of ocean foam. The fisherman gave the veil to his bride, and Burano lace became a symbol of love.

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A popular haunt among tourists, Burano is home to barely 3,000 people. Photo by: Nisian Hughes/ DigitalVision/ Getty Images

Like Burano, Murano is an archipelago, in this case of six isles interconnected by bridges. Known for its legendary glass, it is a destination in its own right. With the risk of fire associated with glassmaking in the Middle Ages, the Venetian Republic relocated all the foundries to Murano. Though the glassmakers eventually owned the island, they were under threat not to leave, hence the secrets of their art never left these shores.

As soon as I land on this lush island, I stop by the Grand Canal, which is not grand but rather cosy, with an intimate atmosphere along its banks. I cross a bridge and walk past old Renaissance-styled homes to the Murano Glass Museum, located in a quaint palace. Chandeliers glitter in the light, reflecting off vases and glasses, mirrors, sculptures and jewellery. There’s a tiny glass menagerie set too.

The exquisite collection reflects 700 years of history. Several artisans focussed on just one genre: mirrors or chandeliers for example. There are ateliers that have been in the same family for generations. Some of the legendary names have been in business for over a century, with over 20 generations of a family passionately involved in the industry.

The island was initially a fishing hamlet but later it became a resort town with palaces and mansions, building off the wealth created by the glass industry. As I sit and sip a cappuccino in the square, I think that there is something magical about the high degree of artistic specialisation in small islands like Murano and Burano. Together, these archipelagos are part of a constellation of Italian crafts, and they have a way of weaving themselves into my heart.

  • Lakshmi Sharath is a travel writer and blogger from Bangalore who quit her corporate career in media to travel. Her passion is all about exploring the nooks and corners of the world and telling stories.

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