Murano, like Venice, reached the height of its splendour in the 16th century. Its wealth comes from glass. In 1291, following some serious fires, the Republic moved the manufacturing of glass here, and since then the secrets of the traditional process have been handed down and are jealously guarded. Murano also has a Grand Canal framed by grand houses, churches and gardens, and has a large bridge, the Vivarini, dividing the island into two.
Places to visit: the furnaces, where the glass is melted and worked; the Museum of Glass, with its exhibits describing the historic tradition of the art of glass making from the earliest times: the Church of San Donato, which was rebuilt in the 12th century. This has a magnificent colonnaded apse paved in Venetian-Byzantine style and alternating coloured mosaic tiles of marble and glass from the centuries-old furnaces.
After about half an hour by water bus, you reach Burano and Torcello. Picturesque coloured houses separate the blue of the sky from that of the calm lagoon, there’s a crooked bell tower, ladies sitting in the doorways of their houses sewing, and peaceful, friendly people entertaining you on the streets. This is Burano, an island of fishermen and lace (Burano lace point), prized and imitated throughout Europe. According to myth, lacemaking originated here when some women imitated an embroidery made with the waves of the sea, given by a siren to a local fisherman who had been faithful to his wife.
Places to visit: the Lace Museum. What to try: the buranello (or bussolà), a typical cake, shaped like a doughnut, which the wives of the fishermen used to make when they went away fishing for long periods of time.
Torcello was one of the first islands to be inhabited by the people of Altino when they were escaping from the barbarian invasions. The island was an important urban centre from the 5th to the 9th century, until it became too marshy and the population moved to the Rialto. Torcello is an inexhaustible source of archaeological discoveries.
Places to visit: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, dating from around 639, with its unmistakable square-based bell tower, and the Church of Santa Fosca with its pentagonal porch (actually part of the cathedral). The monuments are spread out over a grassy meadow in the centre of which stands a massive stone seat, the "Throne of Attila". Legend has it that the throne belonged to the bloodthirsty Hun leader: some say that even today, he can occasionally be seen sitting there ...