Join me for a weekend trip to Burano! It’s early July and we’ll take an early morning boat from Fondamente Nove. From here, depending on the traffic (! yes, traffic! the public boats vaporetti usually queue up in front of the landing stage Murano Faro, it may take up to 15 minutes), we will reach Burano in about 40 minutes.
While I’m walking along Fondamenta San Severo towards the northern parts of our town, that’s the look and feel of early summer I get. I’m always grateful that the vaporetto stop is next to Algiubagio, one of my favorites to eat breakfast. You can see that in the early morning, Fondamente Nove is fully exposed to the sun. There’s not the slightest trace of shade, but it will be here when we return from the Lagoon islands in the late afternoon.
So pleasant to rest in the shade for we’re in for the hottest time of the year. This time, we eat toast with Fontina cheese, oregano and dried tomatoes and also try an oven-fresh bruschetta garnished with crab and salad greens.
Arriving at Burano we’re in for another refreshing surprise. The island welcomes visitors with a spacious lawn and old trees. That’s where I usually stop in the shade for a few minutes before exploring the narrow winding calli of Burano. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the island we’ve just arrived on.
Burano is how we call the island in the Lagoon today and now we’ll tell you its special story. First of all, there were TWO Burano islands ! This very first Buràn was called Buràn da mar, far back in time. As the Lagoon ground is forever rising and contracting (in Italian, we call this phenomenon subsidenza), islands appear and disappear constantly. Usually, there’s not much man can do. It also happened to the first Burano and people looked for a place to live on more steady ground and moved farther north towards Torcello.
Burano is actually the main island of a little archipelago. It’s neighboring island, Mazzorbo, is so near that you can easily reach it crossing a wooden bridge. All I would have to to is turn right in the picture ahead and could reach Mazzorbetto in less than five minutes.
South of Burano, the wonderfully calm cypress-studded island San Francesco del Deserto is located You can actually make it out from Burano walking to its southern shore as I did in the picture below. Yes, here you can see San Francesco del Deserto in the far distance.
Today, Burano and Mazzorbo have around 3000 inhabitants but not all are fishermen or produce lacework. True, the island is famous for just that but there are excellent cooks and gardeners growing vegetables and herbs like salicornia which are part of the staple diet here. A very healthy diet by the way, whose dishes we will present to you in one of our next blog articles.
For centuries, Burano has been self-sufficient, it still is and there’s a lot we can learn from their lifestyle … They even have their own squeri – boat building and repairing facilities, as you can see in the name of the sotoportego below.
There’s just so much to discover once you venture off the beaten path, into the narrow calli and hidden campi where life takes place in front of the doors in the shade. You will notice the little orchards, front gardens and vegetable plots and even tiny vineyards, a green contrast against their colorful facades.
Just like Venice, Burano is divided into sestieri (districts). It also has its own Grand Canal and each of the six sestieri has its own distinct character ! They are called “San Martino Destro”, “San Martino Sinistro”, “San Mauro, Giudecca and Terranova.
During the times of the Venetian Republic, Burano had 8000 inhabitants (now 3000), most of them were fishermen and farmers. Thanks to lace work, the inhabitants earned money to live well, exporting fantastic lace all over the world.
The name Buran derives from bora, the northerly. Bora is an ice-cold wind which has saved Venice quite a few times already, chasing out the waters from the Lagoon during acqua alta. Bora was the name of the northern door of the town of Altino 2000 years ago. Its inhabitants not just moved to Torcello in the 5th century but to other islands of this archipelago. Its first houses were built on wooden poles (palafitte) and were made from reeds (canne). Only around the year 1000 AD were wooden and stone buildings constructed.
While Torcello developed into a rich merchant town, Burano became a center for producing food and vegetables and later, world-famous lacework. Please note that Burano is just ONE of the islands producing lace the most famous one. Others are Pellestrina or Chioggia and even Castello in Venice.
I am often asked why Burano is so colorful. We can’t really tell, one theory is that the brightly colored houses made it easier for the fishermen to make out their island in the thick fog. The Lagoon islands are especially exposed to humidity, and when the water is cold and the air layers warm, soft mist rises out of the water. Fishermen secrets, we’ll talk about those in a blog post in September …
My special tip for you for breakfast on Burano is pastina alle noci e mandorle – a soft little cake filled with an incredibly fragrant and soft mixture of ground almonds and walnuts. You can see these delights below. But of course, you could also taste the famous bus(s)olai, tasting similar to baicoli, slightly of lemon and partly made from maize flour.
Busolai sometimes come flavored with lemon juice, raisins or chocolate drops. Just like baicoli who were used as staple diet for the Venetian merchants and military during their excursions in the Mediterranean and beyond, the busolai were rather big and used to nourish fishermen who often left home in the summer for a few weeks, living on tiny artificial islands to fish and take care of their fishing grounds.
If you are into colors, I’m also sure that you will find plenty of inspiration for Burano. Even though you can find all the colors on Earth here, the favorite color seems to be rosa venessian :-)
The curtains are a very useful shelther in summer. On the one hand, they enable privacy, on the other, they are airy for it can get rather hot inside. These curtains, together with the typical large chimneys are part of a natural air conditioning system, my father used to say, invented during times when no fans were available. And this system is used here to this day…
We’ve got a few tips for you when you visit the island: Try the almond pastries for breakfast at Pasticceria Carmelina Palmisano; eat lunch at Gatto Nero, and discover lacework at Merletti dalla Olga. Burano also has its own Website.