Piegaro: A Thriving Glass Center for 750 Years

August 4, 2014 / Places
Piegaro, Umbria

In 1292, a famous proclamation went out in Venice that all glass masters would move to the Island of Murano. Unknown to them, they were instead held captive so Venice could protect the secret glass formulae. Some escaped to the courts of the Medici and some found their way to Piegaro, Umbria. (Pronounced pyay-GHA-rho)

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Those who arrived in Piegaro, finding a huge source of wood for their ovens and a big torrent of water for their raw materials, settled in the western medieval wall and defensive rooms of the village establishing their first ovens. The people of Piegaro, sensing an opportunity for commerce welcomed them heartily!

By 1321 they were so esteemed for their artistry, Lorenzo Maitani, the builder of the Duomo of Orvieto recruited them to make all the glass mosaics for the great façade. Piegaro became a thriving center of artistic glassware rivalling Murano; all of the Venetian glass masters who arrived were honored with noble titles so respected was the artistry.

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The history of the glassworks is also the story of Piegaresi. Over the course of 750 years there existed at various times three glassworks but it was the same factory of renowned artisans which changed locations. By 1480, the Piegaro artisans had so grown in fame that they were sought after by nobility to make the grand chandeliers, stained glass windows and fine glassware that decorated the palaces and churches that were springing up everywhere in Italy. Duke Federico da Montefeltro commissioned glassware from Piegaro to enrich his court in Urbino. In 1581, the Opera del Duomo di Orvieto had the Piegaro artisans perform delicate restoration of the façade; they produced the gold and green mosaic enamels seen today.

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That first factory has now been lovingly renovated as L’Antica Vetreria, (into stunning holiday rental apartments by Colleen and Tom, bravi! – ed.). The glassworkers worked there until 1934 and then moved to the factory opened by the Marchesa Carolina Miscatelli near the Palazzo Pallavicini.

The women of Piegaro became famous for weaving the straw fiasco around the bottles producing hundreds a day. Today the art is kept alive by my friends in the piazza.

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In 1960, the production of glass art ceased and a new modern factory was built in the valley, the Vetreria Cooperativa Piegaresi, worker-owned, which now produces over 2 million commercial bottles and jars a day shipped internationally.

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In 2004, the last glass factory within the old town was restored as the Museo del Vetro. Visitors today see glass blown objects and woven fiaschi, and are enthralled by the history of glass that began with a few brave artisans who escaped from Murano!

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Colleen Simpson

by Colleen Simpson

Colleen followed a long-held dream and made a home in Piegaro, which is a pristine medieval glass-making village south of Lago Trasimeno in Umbria. She is the innkeeper at www.anticavetreria.net.

20 Responses to “Piegaro: A Thriving Glass Center for 750 Years”

  1. Another great article! Thank you for sharing this information about our village of Piegaro to others. I am so “Thankful” I met you and Tom. If it weren’t for you I would have never found my house here.

    Reply
  2. Linda D.

    What is that roped off pool of glass in the third picture from the bottom? The history was fascinating and now my curiosity is burning…

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    • Colleen Simpson

      Linda: That was the basin of molten glass fired by the ovens below 24/7. There was originally a domed top of brick over the basin with openings for the glass artisans to dip their punte (the long iron rod with holes to blow the glass) and then they would work the glass on the factory floor. When they built the new factory in 1960 they turned the ovens off and the glass cooled into what you see here. It is fascinating to explore this vast glass factory that is now our museum. I give weekly tours with my guests and tell them of the history of 750 years of glassmaking. We are blessed to be a part of this historic tradition. In a few days we will be celebrating our festival “Days of Glass” with glass blowing demonstrations, classes, processions in medieval clothing, feasts, strolling minstrals and ancient dances. It is a wonderful time to be in Piegaro each August. We will be dressed in layers of velvet on Sunday!

      Reply
  3. Onofrio Curatolo

    Your publications and researches are precious as they bring to light the vast and hidden treasures of Italy. During the school years (in the early 50s) we had limited time and access to these illustrations. Thanks to the computer and all the dedicated and knowledgeable individuals providing so much rich information. I do appreciate your work. Thank you.

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    • Colleen Simpson

      How nice to hear that you like my writing! It is certainly a wonderful world now with all the technology to bring these stories to so many. Grazie for your complimenti, Onofrio.

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  4. GARRETT

    Colleen, I couldn’t agree more with Onofrio Curatolo (great name!) above. We are fortunate to have not only the technology with which you and others teach us but in fact we are lucky that there exist in this world passionate people that go to the “trouble” to share their passion with the world. Thank you for illuminating us all. And remember, that is precisely what you are doing. Cheers, Garrett

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    • Colleen Simpson

      Garrett, So many thanks that you appreciate the passion! Visit us someday to learn more about our remarkable and beautiful village!

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  5. Anstell Ricossa

    Onofrio and Garrett took the words right out of my mouth ! Bravi… and to you, Colleen, mille grazie .

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  6. Jan Johnson

    Wonderful Colleen! Thanks for your research and for sharing the story with us.

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  7. Anne Robichaud

    Colleen, Piegaro is a charm, your place there is too.!…and so glad you are preserving the treasured artisan history of this hill town gem. Grazie!

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    • Colleen Simpson

      Anne, Hope you can come over for our “I Giorni del Vetro” festa this weekend. Kicks off on Thursday 7 August and in high gear on Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday. Strolling minstrels, ancient dancing, lots of feasts, glass blowing and the grand Corteo at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Piegaro recreates its days of glass in the medieval world!

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  8. Ciao Colleen!
    I’m so sorry to have missed Piegaro in spring although I did get to revisit the fabulous Orvieto duomo – It’s very very much on my “list” as is visiting you & Tom!
    Abbracci!
    Victoria

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  9. Mac & Karen

    We were to spend two weeks in your beautiful town at Nadra’s apartment but medical problems lead us to cancel our trip. We’re heart sick we could not make it even more now seeing how wonderful your hill top village is. We hope to try again next year and thank you so much for your story.

    Reply

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