Burano (49)

If the name of Murano is synonymous with glasswork, that of Burano, another of the lagoon’s islands, is synonymous with lace. Close to Torcello, some 40 minutes from Venice by vaporetto, it is well worth visiting this pleasant spot of solid fishing tradition, even if it is just for a few hours.

On reaching the jetty, you will realise that one of the main traits that distinguishes Burano is the display of saturated colours on the façades of its small and simple houses. Lined up like a colour chart, they give the street an explosion of happiness which is due, in part, to the unique way in which the light falls on the setting.

While there are increasingly fewer fishermen to be seen, the lacework, though far from the splendour of other times, continues to have a formidable presence and, in fact, you will still be able to see, while walking along these quiet streets, women practicing the fine art of lace embroidery in front of their houses. 

However, do not trust the cheap pieces sold in the majority of shops in the Via Baldassare Galuppi, Burano’s main street, since lacework, as a painstaking craft, has a price. So what you may at first think is a bargain almost certainly comes from a factory in the Far East.

The history of lacework on this island dates back to the 15th century, but it became established in the 16th century, when the women who dedicated their time to embroidery reached such a level of perfection in their work that the delicate type of knitting they did came to be called punto in aria, which means “knitting in the air”.

As a curious detail, a deep-rooted local legend says that the origin of this craft is due to a fisherman who resisted the call of the sirens and was rewarded by their queen. This siren swiped the boat with her tail, and from the sea foam appeared a beautiful embroidered veil, which the fisherman’s fiancé wore at their wedding. Green with envy of the beauty of the fabric, the other women from the island desperately tried to copy the veil’s beauty, thus starting the tradition of embroidery.

As time passed, foreign competition and the end of the Republic of Venice in 1797 sentenced these products to a process of decline. The industry was revived, however, in 1871, when Countess Andriana Marcello created the Scuola dei Merletti, the Lacemakers School. 

Today, the building of this school is the headquarters of the Museo dei Merletti, which covers the centuries of history of lacework on this island and possesses a collection of around 80,000 valuable pieces, featuring locally made creations and others from other points of Venice. 

Along with the extensive documentation that the collection holds, the Museo dei Merletti will amaze you because it keeps the customs of Burano alive, since here you can see lacemakers at work.

To round off your visit, remember Burano’s fishing legacy and, if the weather is good, sit and eat on the terrace   of one of the many trattorias around here. The delicious grilled fish will help you to meditate over whether you should buy that tablecloth you thought was so expensive before.

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