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The main feature of the Venice Carnival, a traditional Venetian mask is the must-have souvenir to bring back with you after visiting the city. No one knows for sure why the tradition began back in the 13th century, but from the start mask makers were afforded a unique position in society. The mask was a way of bringing every citizen down (or up) to the same level, and imbued individuals with a confidence that may have been missing previously. When Napoleon put an end to the Venetian Republic in 1797 the masks were slowly phased out. They made several returns and subsequently several disappearances, before returning with a vengeance in the 1980s. Mask shops have sprung up all over the city. Our favourites are Bottega dei Mascareri by Rialto Bridge and Ca’Macana in Dorsoduro.
2: Murano Glass
There are two types of glass in the world. Murano glass and the rest. For centuries this little island just half a mile outside of Venice had a total monopoly on glassmaking. In 1291 all glassmaking factories were moved to Murano, and the glassmakers became some of the most prominent citizens in the entire Venetian Republic. The exportation of their professional secrets was even punishable by death. Serious stuff. Murano glass has a history and artistic value that far outshines the rest of the glass industry. You can visit shops and factories on Murano itself, or one of the many outlets in Venice proper. Always look out for the official Murano trademark in order to avoid cheap imitations.
3: Gondolier Hats
Venice is the land of the canal, the land of the gondola, so what better souvenir to bring back than your very own gondolier hat? Sure, they may be a little kitsch and you aren’t too likely to wear it back home, but if you’re going to be a tourist in Venice then go full tourist. They are unavoidably practical as well, protecting you from the blinding sun in the height of summer.
4: Burano Lace
Lace is to Burano what glass is to Murano. The lace created on Burano is widely-considered as the first true lace, meaning it was the first to be stitched alone as opposed to onto something. The lace industry here can be traced back to the 1500s and reached during that century. Whilst modern machinery takes care of the demands now, the traditional processes can still be seen, in particular at the Scuola di Merletti (School of Lace). Lacemakers are becoming more and more rare however, so get yourself some whilst you still can.
5: Marbled Paper
Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, Venice was the first great capital of book printing in Europe. A lot of this was because of the new method of sprucing up bookbinding, an art which had grown monotonous. Originating in Japan, travelling down the Silk Road to Turkey where Venetian merchants got hold of it and brought it home, marble paperwork is still practiced in the city today. Pick up an intricate and delicately designed notebook to take home. Antica Legatoria Piazzesi (Sestriere San Marco) and La Ricera (Ponte delle Ostreghe) are our recommendations.