Glass & Crystal: Being clear about Italy’s most precious arts




Murano glass - famously made into exquisite ornaments, glasses and artworks on the 'glass island' just off Venice's mainland. (Photo by Sailko)

Not always the most luggage-friendly things to buy in Italy, these special made-in-Italy items are definitely worth checking out. If you can’t squeeze in one of the glorious chandeliers, maybe you could splurge on a cute pair of earrings or some wine glasses instead…

MURANO: The Glass Island, Venice

The history of glassmaking in Venice dates back centuries. The locals learnt the hard way that this great artisan work can be quite dangerous owing to the use of extreme heat to turn sand into glass. After many fires in Venice, the locals banished the glassmakers to the tiny nearby island of Murano, where they have stayed ever since.

In fact, at one point in history, the glassmakers were not allowed to leave the island to ensure that they could not share the secrets of their valued trade with others.

Over time, the Venician glassblowers became so esteemed by Venice that they were given immunity from being arrested, and were privy to many of the privileges of society reserved for the upper-classes.

Nowadays, it is easy to get from Venice’s mainland to the Murano island. Many  of the glass-making factories on the island offer transfers, and there are public transport boats and water-taxis.

On the island, each Venice glass manufacturer offers demonstrations by masters who twist the molasses-like silica into a range of gorgeous ornaments, sculptures, glasses and figurines.

The glass pieces made range from small and colourful beads through to impossibly impressive chandeliers, to highly-prized sculptures. Glasses, plates and platters, ornate lamps, and more objects than you could poke a stick at line the shelves and cover the floors of the factory showrooms.

Light glimmers off the facets cut into the glass, off the fine curved edges of the sculptures, in a brilliant flitter of light, proving that in Murano, all that glitters is not gold – it’s glass.

COLLE VAL d’ELSA: Crystal Mountains, Tuscany

In a little-known town in the heart of Tuscany, lies an area which produces 15% of the world’s entire crystal. In Colle Val d’Elsa, crystal has been made since 14th century.

The so-called ‘via del cristallo’ (Crystal Road), is a road in the Tuscan village town lined with crystal manufacturers.  Many crystal manufacturers are open to the public for visits and purchases.

In 2001, a museum dedicated to Tuscany’s greatest crystal was opened on Via dei Fossi in Colle Val d’Elsa.

Visit the stunning Tuscany countryside and immerse yourself in the Tuscan culture on our small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni too, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence – Best of Tuscany small-group tour.

To see the sites of Venice with a great tour guide, we have 4 great Venice tours added into one unique Venice tours discount package.

Our guided small-group, skip-the-line tour of the Vatican allows you to see some great collections of precious arts as you visit the Vatican Museum with a great tour guide.

In the Uffizi Gallery, you can see some of the most precious artworks in the world, as painted by some of the greatest artists in history. The Uffizi Gallery houses what is arguably one of the finest collections of Renaissance art. Michelangelo’s David rather is unclad but definitely beautiful and well-worth visiting!

If you would like to have a private guide accompanying you, we have private tours that cater to your every desire. From Florence (and Tuscany) to RomeVenice to the Cinque Terre and beyond, we are at your beck and call.

To explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about the tours we have to offer in Florence, RomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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  1. This blog provide interesting information about the history of how the Italian pepole convert sand into glass and nicely describe the life of pepole who involved in this work.Good work.

  2. Dear Italyartviva,
    I was wondering on a similar note,, My young ones bought a rose quartz crystal necklace and a substantial crystal clear/white crystal from a specialty store. Their good friends are insisting the crystals are not “serious.” I have heard some outlets offer glass beneath the guise of remaining actual crystals, but how do you tell?
    Great Job!

    1. Dear Brad,

      Thanks for visiting our blog!

      There are a few ways to test if you have crystal or cut glass. Start by holding the item up to light. Crystal is either perfectly clear or white and will diffract light. Glass rather will have a slight colouring of green, yellow or grey and does not diffract. Crystal is also heavier than glass, and if you tap crystal, it will ‘hum’ whilst glass will not.

      If you’re still unsure, you could take the item to another dealer and ask their expert opinion.


  3. Very cool blog!! Excellent .. Superb .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds also. Thank you for sharing. . . . . .

  4. i was just in venice a few weeks ago. we stayed at the B&B Rota, by the Rialto bridge. And there’s TONS to do in Venice so i hope you’re staying several days. Have fun!