It was a cold and foggy morning when I set out for Burano island. I walked about fifteen minutes from my hotel to the F.te Nove vaporetto station on the north shore to catch vaporetto 12 to Burano. Word of warning: there is only one ticket office and ticket machine, and they are next to stop B/C. The Burano vaporetto leaves from stop A, and it’s a good 100 meters from the B/C stop, and over a steep bridge. So get your ticket first before heading to stop A. The vaporetto stops at Murano and Mazzorbo islands on the way and it takes about 50 minutes to Burano. Well worth the journey, even on a foggy sort of day.
When we docked at Burano, the horde of tourists set out as one but then spread out and often, when I ventured on side alleys or on the fringes, I would hardly see anyone else. I also noticed how quiet it was, not just on Burano but also in Venice main island. With no cars honking, buses zooming by or motorcycles whining past, the city is very very quiet. Only along the canals you can hear the motor boats go past. At one point on Burano I stood on the southern coast (I think, it’s easy to lose direction there) and watched the calm waters and the grey scale scenery in front of me. It was very peaceful.
There are three canals on Burano, two of which connect with each other. The main canal with the most colorful views is the one on the west side, and runs on a sort of north-south axis, except it has a sharp turn in the middle. There is a bridge on that main canal, near the southern end, that is highlighted to have the best views and it was constantly heaving with people as they jostled to get their photos and selfies. I had picked a good day to go, as this was really the only spot with any sort of crowd.
The island only has 2800 residents, and they must be really tired of the millions of tourists descending on their otherwise peaceful island every year. Still, tourists spend their dollars and yens in the shops, buying Burano lace and Murano glass and eating in the restaurants and cafes. Only occasionally you can see a glimpse of local life. Laundry hung out to dry on a line high on the facade of a building in a narrow alley. An old woman, bent with long life but her hair carefully coiffed, going for lunch at a restaurant. A co-op shop tucked away on the fringes of the island.
Vexingly, I can’t find out online when the colorful buildings were built. Even the official website just states that the original mud houses were replaced by the houses we see today “later”. Wikipedia is no more helpful, but goes to mention that Romans settled there in the 6th century and that Leonardo da Vinci visited there in the 15th century. I’m assuming that by da Vinci’s time Burano was much like today, although it isn’t clear when the houses were first painted in the colors we see today. Today, you can’t just paint your house any color there, but have to apply for permission from a housing body first.
The houses are very basic in construction, mainly just a square box, 2-3 stories high with little other ornamentation than the color. The colorful rows of houses remind me of Torshavn on Faroe Islands, Poznan in Poland, Prodica Italy, and of course Copenhagen’s Nyhavn, which is a few hundred years younger than Poznan or Burano. Perhaps life was so harsh in the medieval times that a little color was just the thing to raise one’s spirits?
Whenever Burano’s houses got their look, today it’s a great half a day’s trip from Venice main island. And if you manage to pick a quieter day, which, oddly, the first day of the carnival turned out to be, Burano is a nice respite from the far busier Venice.