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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!