Visiting Venice's Colorful Burano Island
While Venice is certainly one of Italy’s most popular destinations, the small island of Burano makes for a wonderful change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the city. Known for its fine handmade lace, fishing, and colorful homes, this quiet island is a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors. So hop aboard the Vaporetto for a ride to one of the most beautiful and unique islands in the Venetian Lagoon.
While over 50,000 tourists will visit Venice on any given day, very few of them take the time to travel out to Burano Island. This might be because many of Venice’s visitors, almost two-thirds, are here for just a day and prefer to see the city's main sights. But for those who choose to stay for a while and are willing to endure the 45-minute boat ride, a world of color and lace awaits them.
Arriving in Burano, one immediately notices the brilliant pastel colors that adorn virtually every home. This is not done by accident but is all part of the local plan to provide visitors with a beautiful array of colorful buildings, which is a photographer's dream come true. When residents wish to paint their homes they must first make a request to the local government, which will respond with a list of certain colors that are permitted for that lot. It’s all part of a very specific system that traces its roots back to an ancient local legend where fisherman would paint their houses in unique and brilliant colors so they could spot them from a distance while away fishing. Whatever the reason for the colors, it makes for a very pleasant visual experience and is one of the main reasons that tourists visit the island.
In addition to being a very colorful community, Burano is also well-known for its lace industry. Since the 16th century, high-quality handmade lace has been produced here on Burano. Although lace is not quite as popular as it once was, and is mass-produced today, a few local artisans on Burano still make lace by hand with needles. There is even a lace Museum, the Museo del Merletto di Burano, that houses a former lace-making school that dates back to 1872. The museum is open daily from 10 am until 6 pm and has an entry fee of just five euro. If you are looking to take home a unique handcrafted piece of Burano lace, stop by one of the local shops, some of which have demonstrations to showcase the art. Just be sure that you are getting what you pay for and that the piece is indeed hand made locally.
Church of San Martino
As you approach Burano by Vaporetto you will certainly notice the bell tower of the Church of San Martino. If you take a close look you will notice that the tower is leaning. The Church of San Martino was built in the 16th century and dominates the center of Burano. This is the only church on the island and in addition to being famous for its leaning tower, it also houses most of the historic artwork that is on the island. The famous painting the Crucifixion, by artist G.B. Tiepolo, dates to the early 18th century and is the most well-known piece of artwork in the church.
Although Burano relies mainly on tourist dollars it is at heart a fishing community with roots that go back to the seventh century. While here you will undoubtedly notice the fishing boats leaving in the morning and returning at the end of the day with their bounty. Because of this, you will find the freshest seafood here on Burano. Fishing techniques used long ago are still used today with reed cages and nets used to capture the fish as the tides come in and out. The great variety of different fishing boats used in the lagoon is the result of centuries of experience in fishing the waters of the Adriatic.
There really is not much else to do while visiting Burano and that is part of the attraction here. You will not encounter the hordes of tourists that can make getting around the center of Venice such a challenge. Other than visiting the Lace Museum and the Church of San Martino the rest of your time should be spent enjoying the beautiful colors of Burano. There are a number of small shops, cafes, and restaurants here and this really is a wonderful place to unwind with a leisurely stroll around the island. Just be sure to bring your camera as this is one of the most colorful and photogenic places I have ever been to.
Getting out to Burano Island does require some work, but is worth the effort. The Vaporetto line number 12 leaves from the Fondament Nove station, which is located on the north end of Venice. The boat ride out to Burano Island will make a stop at Murano Island, which is the home of the world-famous Murano Glass and certainly worth a visit.
If you are planning a full day journey out to Burano I would suggest splitting the time between the islands and spending at least a few hours on Murano. The trip to Murano will take approximately fifteen minutes followed by another thirty minutes to get to Burano. The journey certainly gives one a feel for the size of the Venetian Lagoon and along the way, you will pass a variety of vessels engaged in fishing, commerce, and tourism, all the activities that keep these islands humming.
Shortly after leaving Venice, and before you arrive in Murano, you will also pass the interesting island of San Michele, otherwise known as the cemetery island. As you cruise by, one can’t help but wonder whether San Michele is actually what it appears to be and the answer is “yes”. This former prison is now home to hundreds of thousands of graves, including a few famous folks. Igor Stravinsky and noted French jewelry designer Jean Schlumberger of Tiffany’s fame are both entombed here. Although we did not venture to San Michele you can get there by taking Vaporetto number 42 or 52 from the Fondamente Nove station. The ride is but five minutes. There is a Renaissance-era church here, the Church of San Michele and a monastery worth visiting should you decide to visit.
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If your stay in Venice is for more than just a day consider taking the trip out to Burano. This quiet and colorful island is the perfect escape for a little peace and tranquility from Venice. The vibrant colors and charm of Burano are sure to brighten your day. Enjoy your visit to the Isola di Burano.
Ciao for now.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio