The first eye-catching sight in Burano is the variety of colors used to decorate its houses: it’s as if a schizophrenic painter dropped random bucketfuls of paint, with all possible hues and variations, over the buildings.
There’s only one vaporetto stop in Burano and it faces the main street leading into the heart of the island, a busy path through lace shops, souvenir retailers and other tourist traps.
We decide to avoid the mainstream and we turn right, starting our walk with an exploration of the residential area on the western portion of the island.
Although the buildings here are recent, there is always an unexpected discovery to be made: a sudden view of the lagoon through the buildings, statues of saints hanging from the walls, fancy decorations and lamps adorning gardens and fences.
On the ground floor of a private house we find the small workshop of a young artist, Sara Senigaglia, who specializes in gold leaf engraving. Her jewels are creations that mix glass produced in Murano with the golden decorations that Sara patiently carves into extremely complicated shapes and designs.
A few steps further on we enter Corte Comare, the largest open space in this part of Burano, where the elements of local life – cats lying in the sunshine, washing hanging on clotheslines – coexist with the first signs of tourist activity.
Burano is actually an archipelago composed of four small islands, all of them connected by bridges. A three-way bridge is the next landmark: again we decide not to follow the main direction toward the central island, preferring to explore the southeastern island of Giudecca.
This area shows a different aspect of life in Burano. The outer waterfront, the one facing the open lagoon, quietly displays a row of small fishing boats and nets drying under the sun.
The waterfront along the inner canal is busier with tourists taking pictures, poking their heads into small shops, and looking for the famous restaurant Gatto Nero.
I wonder about the time when the situation was the opposite, when Burano was mainly a fishing village and most of the activity took place on its shores, rather than on its main street.
On the southern edge of Giudecca we find a group of houses owned by local families whose gardens and courtyards are filled with nets, colorful baskets and a number of fishing tools that I cannot name.
A broad modern bridge links the southern island to the central one, and as we cross it we’re immediately struck by the bell tower, leaning so much to one side it seems to be threatening the tiny houses below. This may be why there are no houses built in the shade of the tower, just the local parish soccer ground.
A narrow alleyway through the buildings leads us toward what can be considered the center of the village, Piazza Baldassarre Galuppi. The square is pretty large for the urban standards of these islands, in fact it is an artificial space constructed in the late 19th century by filling in a portion of the main canal that once cut across the archipelago. After its creation the square was named after B. Galuppi, a 18th century composer and the most famous native of Burano.
Around the square we see the most interesting examples of historic architecture in Burano: on the northern side two gothic houses – the former Palazzo del Podestà and the Lace Museum – display their brick facades; on the southern side the parish church of San Martino, an anonymous building dating to the 16th century, hosts a noteworthy early Crucifixion painted by G. B. Tiepolo.
Westward on B. Galuppi Street a compact line of restaurants-bars-lace & souvenir shops is exhibited. Again we decide to avoid the mainstream and we head north toward the island of Terranova; this neighborhood is relatively tranquil and hosts two local “gems”.
On the eastern waterfront, we discover the house-workshop of Remigio Barbaro, a local sculptor who passed away in 2005, and the house has remained close since then. The garden still encloses a silent collection of terracotta and bronze statues, as well as a variety of archaeological shards that the owner probably collected on his wanderings around the lagoon.
On the northern point of Terranova we poke our heads into the warehouse of the local Fishermen Cooperative of Burano, a company that includes almost 150 fishermen operating in this part of the lagoon. Their main activities are fishing with traditional tools and clam farming.
Upon leaving Terranova we walk through the northern neighborhood of Burano, a dense residential area that took shape in the 20th century: many houses here have a small green yard often used as a vegetable garden. It is only a 10 minute walk to the water bus stop, but it’s easy to get lost in this maze of narrow alleyways: only the tall brick shaped water tower provides a distinctive landmark.
As the vaporetto leaves the dock, heading toward Venice, we browse the photos we took and we feel really satisfied. Our exploration of the island took us away from the mainstream and through less well-known neighborhoods; showing that beyond the picture postcard image of colorful houses and lace production, Burano is still a vibrant community with industrious craftsmen and fishermen, old ladies chatting from the windows, and children going to school.