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Crossing the Venetian Lagoon

It’s early morning on the Fondamenta Nòve, Venice’s northern waterfront, and the large motonave is warming up its engine while waiting for the last tourist to get on.
We are heading north, toward the dream island of Burano.
We manage to find an external seat, on the stern side. It’s still a bit chilly, but the cold wind of the last few days has stopped. I never feel like going to Burano in winter; it’s too cold and the thick fog can be depressing. Today it’s hazy, especially in the distance; the Alps, although close, are not visible. But we are positive that the thin mist will give way to a bright sunny day as the temperature rises.

a seagull on a pole in the Venetian lagoon off Murano island

The ride to Burano takes approximately 45 minutes and cuts through the northern basin of the Venetian Lagoon, giving us a unique chance to observe its composite landscape, where natural areas alternate with manmade islands.

After leaving the Fondamenta Nòve the boat heads north. The first island that appears on the right side is San Michele. Once a prosperous monastery belonging to the Camaldolese Order, it became the city cemetery during the 19th century.

San Michele island, the cemetery of Venice

We first stop by Murano, the world famous Glass Island. The water bus stop is by the Faro, a white lighthouse built in 1934. Other tourists and commuters get on board here. As we leave the eastern side of the island looks like a single block of glass furnaces; for centuries they have been the pride of the community.

Murano island with furnaces and belltowers

In the opposite direction, far right, we can spot the farming islands of Vignole and Sant’Erasmo, outlined by their green skyline of trees and plants.
Industry and agriculture, the historic microcosms of economic production in the Venetian Republic, nowadays are just niche activities, while tourism provides the majority of jobs in town.

A few minutes later the compact shape of San Giacomo in Paludo appears to the right. This small island was once an important stop along the Murano-Burano route, where rowers could rest or find shelter in case of bad weather. Its external protection wall has recently been restored and an interesting example of a cavana (a sort of water garage) can be seen here.
This abandoned island reawakens my memories of archaeological excavations, packed lunches, and mosquitoes. In fact, in my previous career as an archaeologist, I once had the chance to participate in a field project organized by the University of Ca’ Foscari here on the island of San Giacomo.

San Giacomo in Paludo, an island in the northern lagoon of Venice

Today the lagoon is totally flat, deserted. In the distance there is only a solitary fisherman and some rowers practicing. The boat seems to follow an invisible line, only the bricole (wooden poles) mark the supposed borders of the channel.

After almost 20 minutes we spot two isolated buildings rising from the line of water; their roofs are already collapsed, the walls will follow sooner or later. The conditions of Madonna del Monte are even worse than those of San Giacomo: without an external wall protecting its body, the waves and tides have eroded the land to such an extent that it’s impossible to retrace the original shape. In the near future nothing will remain to testify to the existence of this small island.

the ruins on the island of the Madonna del Monte

Suddenly we are aware of Burano. Distracted by the view and memories we hadn’t noticed its skyline, with the unmistakable leaning bell tower appearing on the far right. The island is literary packed with small houses painted with bright colors and hues.
The boat now enters a channel through the small archipelago of Mazzorbo with two distinctive views: a line of low brick houses on the right, fields and vegetation on the left.
Mazzorbo and Burano, a farming village and a fishing village: the two islands are so close and yet the people’s lifestyle has always been completely different.
As the boat turns toward its final stop, we get a glimpse of Torcello to the far left. It is a “treasure island” for archaeologists and history lovers, but that is another story.

Now it is time to get off the motonave and to start our exploration of Burano.

houses in Mazzorbo