Murano is a series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon, northern Italy. It lies about 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) north of Venice and measures about 1.5 km (1 mi) across with a population of just over 5,000 (2004 figures). It is famous for its glass making. It was once an independent comune, but is now a frazione of the comune of Venice.
Murano was initially settled by the Romans and from the sixth century by people from Altinum and Oderzo. 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. From the eleventh century, it began to decline as islanders moved to Dorsoduro. It had a Grand Council, like that of Venice, but from the thirteenth century, Murano was ultimately governed by a podestà from Venice. Unlike the other islands in the Lagoon, Murano minted its own coins.
Early in the second millennium hermits of the Camaldolese Order occupied one of the islands, seeking a place of solitude for their way of life. There they founded the Monastery of St. Michael (Italian: S. Michele di Murano). This monastery became a great center of learning and printing. The famous cartographer, Fra Mauro, whose maps were crucial to the European exploration of the world, was a monk of this community. The monastery was suppressed in 1810 by French forces under Napoleon, in the course of their conquest of the Italian peninsula, and the monks were expelled in 1814. The grounds then became Venice’s major cemetery.
In 1291, 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. 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 eighteenth century, glassmaking is still the island’s main industry.
In the fifteenth century, the island became popular as a resort for Venetians, and palaces were built, but this later declined. The countryside of the island was known for its orchards and vegetable gardens until the nineteenth century, when more housing was built.
Attractions on the island include the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato (known for its twelfth-century Byzantinemosaic pavement and said to house the bones of the dragon slain by Saint Donatus in the 4th century), the church of San Pietro Martire with the chapel of the Ballarin family built in 1506 and artworks by Giovanni Bellini, and the Palazzo da Mula. Glass-related attractions include the many glassworks, some Mediaeval and most open to the public, and the Murano Glass Museum, housed in the large Palazzo Giustinian.