With its population of 2,800, Isola di Burano, or Burano Island in English is actually four islands linked together by a series of bridges and is renowned for its brightly coloured houses, lace stores and wonderful seafood restaurants. Located 7km (4mi) away from St. Marks, the island requires a 40min private vaporetti ride (or 2 hours by public water bus) through the picturesque Venetian lagoon.
Like many other islands in the lagoon, Burano is believed to of been inhabited since Roman times, well before the present Venetians arrived at the water’s edge. The arrival of the Lombard tribes in the 6th century saw many leave their mainland homes to look for safer housing. One of those tribes, The Altino, took refuge on an island they called Boreana, named after one of the gates of their native city which faced to the north an through which blew the Bora winds. By the year 1000, the island was fully occupied and has been so ever since. For many years the island was subordinate to its neighbours Torcello and Mazzorbo, being refered to as a simple village. One major advantage Burano had was its location, located in the path of wind and well away from stagnant water meant Burano was normally spared any outbreaks of disease, such as malaria, that would quite often engulf the lagoon.
The islands fame arrived in the 16th century when the women on the island began making lace with needles, a style that had arrived into Venice from the then Venetian controlled island of Cyprus (modern day Greece or Turkey???). One of the first to bring people’s attention to the Cyprus lace was Leonardo Da Vinci, he visited the island in 1481, staying at the village of Lefkera where he purchased a piece of the cloth that was then used for the Main Altar in Milan Cathedral. The lace then spread across Europe with its new home being the island of Burano. Originating in the convents as well as the private houses the women of Burano tended to follow the needle lace that had arrived earlier, whilst other parts of Venice, Chiogga for example, developed a different product which was made using lace bobbins. The 18th century saw the industry decline as the Venetian Republic collapsed but in 1872 the Merletto Lace School was opened on the island thus reviving the industry. The school was started by Contessa Marcello under the Regis of Queen Margarita of Italy. Francessca Memo, known as La Scarpaiola, was the only person on the island at the time who knew the secret of “puntao in aria” or needlepoint lace so she brought in others to teach and the industry was revived.
Fine lace from Burano was seen as an accessory to fashion, symbolising high social status and as a consequence became popular amongst princes, nobles, and the wealthy bourgeois of Europe.
Many stories explain the origins of the coloured houses, local tradition has it that the sailors painted them these bright colours to help recognise their home from many miles off as they sailed back towards the island. The effect of the vivid colours is magnified as many home owners paint the their doors and windows white.
Church of San Martino
This 16th century church is known for its leaning bell tower as well as a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo titled “Crucifixion painted in 1725 and the Miracle of St. Alban painted by Zanchi.
Museum and School Of Lace Making
Located in the former 14th century Palace of the Podesta, the museum has more than 68,000 pieces of lace on display. However only the 20th century ones are from Burano since the older ones come from Venetian public and private collections.
Baldassare Galuppi was a musician from the 18th century who became known as “Il Buranello”.
Today people visit the island, not only for its lace but also the wonderful selection of seafood restaurants there.