Burano, Italy is famous for two things: Venetian lace work from the 16th century and the colorful homes of fishermen that reside on the island. Located about an hour from the city of Venice by boat, the island of Burano is one of many islands in the Venetian Lagoon. It is believed that this rainbow island, as it is sometimes called, was founded in the 5th century by refugees from the mainland after they were forced from their homes by Attila the Hun.
The Colorful Houses
It is unknown when this first began, but story has it the fishermen couldn’t recognize their homes in the fog when returning from sea, so they decided to paint them bright colors. Every home is different from its neighbor. Today anyone wishing to repaint their home must send a request to the government requesting permission. The government will then respond with a very specific choice of colors.
Located amidst the colorful homes is the Church of St. Martin Bishop and the leaning bell tower. The reason for it leaning? Nothing more than the marshy conditions of the land it was built on, as well as multiple restorations that have caused the tower to tilt over time.
The Lace Work
Lacemaking became popular in the Republic of Venice during the 16th century. The Venetian art of lace became popular across Europe and especially in France—King Louis XIV of France even wore a lace collar made by the lace makers in Burano.
Throughout the 17th century Burano lace continued to impress as each creation was unique yet elegant. Punto in aria (or “Lace in Air”) became so popular that in 1665 France began to produce Point de France (“French Lace”). They even created a lacemaking competition. However, France was never able to match the elegance of the original Venetian lace.
With the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797, Venetian lace became scarce on Burano. It wasn’t until the winter of 1872, when an economy based mostly on fishing was no longer enough to sustain residents of the island, that lacemaking became popular again. Lacemaking would once again become the primary economic resource for the island.
It became so popular that a school opened in an attempt to revitalize the island’s past-time. Founded by Countess Andriana Marcello in 1872, the school taught this centuries-old tradition for decades. Unfortunately, competition from Asia, two World Wars, and and changes in fashion brought the school to a close in 1972.
In 1978, a campaign was launched to salvage this piece of the island’s history, resulting in the Lace museum. If you are fortunate enough to visit the Rainbow island today, you can observe lace-makers at work, keeping up this longstanding tradition.