“Death is pitch black, but colours are light. To be a painter, one must work with rays of light.” – Edvard Munch
Let’s escape the dreary winter grey of London to the most colourful city in the world to brighten up our days, Burano, a small island about 11km northeast of Venice. I came across this fascinating island by chance during our adventure in Venice, but it was one of the most memorable places I had ever visited in Italy. The brightly painted houses lit up the pale blue sky and the sand stone cobbled streets in the most wonderful way. Everywhere we looked, the contrasting colours were just so bold. They were all screaming for attention, competing and complementing one another. I was told that colours of these little houses followed a specific system originating from medieval era. In present day, if a resident wishes to paint their home, one must send a written request to the government who will respond by giving notice of permitted colours for that particular lot… a little bit like Santorini where everyone must paint their houses white, I suppose. It might sound restricting but I think it is a positive measure that the government of Venice makes an effort to preserve the truly unique character of this little island, a settlement which dated back to the Roman time when the people of Altino escaped barbarian invasions to the islands of Venice Lagoon. There were several story about the origin of this city, but I was told that the name, Burano, was most likely originated from the word ‘Porta Boreana’, the name for the northern door of Altino, which was overthrown.
Burano used to be a poor island, mainly occupied by fishermen and glass makers. It eventually rose to prominence when the ladies of the island began making needle lace in the 16th century, which became what the island was famous for and its main export across Europe, just like how Murano was famous for its glass making. It was rumoured that in 1481, Leonardo Da Vinci even visited the island to purchase a Burano lace cloth for the main altar of the Duomo di Milano. With that in mind, of course we were intrigued by this traditional craft that the island was famous for, and decided to visit one of the remaining lace making workshops near Galuppi Square. The lace making demonstration and craftsmanship certainly did not disappoint. Although the lace did not look anything special superficially because the same effects could be achieved by machine these days, it was still interesting to see the origin of lace making and how it was made by hand originally before industrial revolution took over the world.
If you ever visit Venice, I highly recommend a half day trip to this little colourful fisherman island of Burano. Not only is it very photogenic, it is also the origin of the most famous lace in the world since 16th century. Besides, the local delicacy called Risotto de Go, made from freshly caught Go fish and Burano cookies are not so bad neither…
No wonder this little island is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of Venice Lagoon. This age old civilisation is certainly worth preserving. This trip may have been unplanned, but it certainly was one of the best afternoon adventure we had while in Venice for sure.