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Beadmaking in Venice

Venice is one of my favorite cities, not because of the bead connection but because of its beauty. Its history is rich. It was once a powerful state in its own right and for a long time the exclusive trader with the Islamic world. It consists of 117 islands in the Lagoon of Venice, separated from the Adriatic by a long, sand spit called the Lido. Among its important islands are:

Torcello. Glassmaking started here by the 6th century. Bottles (for wine) and glass tiles for church mosaics were their major products. The mosaic tesserae (as the tiles are called) were also sold elsewhere and used for beadmaking, mostly to color glass that was locally melted down from broken bottles. We know that this was done at some of the Viking beadmaking sites.

Lido. Not only serves as a breakwater, but has great beaches. This is where much of the action of Death in Venice took place. If you saw the movie, did you notice the bead seller on the beach? The Lido was also an early settlement and from there the residents (led by pigeons carrying crosses) fled the invading Franks and settled on Rivo Alto, the "high bank," now called Rialto.

Rialto. This is the heart of Venice. In A.D. 823 the bones of St. Mark (the patron saint) were brought from Alexandria (another important beadmaking city). Rialto slowly eclipsed Torcello. The first glassmakers, making bottles, are recorded in 982.

Murano. In 1291 glassmakers were told to move their operations to this island to spare Rialto from the dangers of fire and to keep closer check on the glassmakers themselves. This subsequently became the heart of glass and bead production.

A gallery devoted to pictures of beadmaking in Venice is on the site. A century-by-century gallery of Venetian trade beads is also here. These are color plates to the two issues of the Margaretologist that tell this story in detail. They are updates to two earlier books on this subject, both of which are now out of print.


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