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The birth of glass between history and legends

Historical Curiosities
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The birth of glass between history and legends

Glass is an item we use on a daily basis: we drink from a glass, we protect ourselves at home and in our cars thanks to glass windows, we store food in glass containers, we use beautiful glass objects to decorate our homes, etc. But have you ever wondered when and how this unique material was first created?

Its birth, a fortuitous mix of natural elements, is lost in the mists of time... The most ancient testimony we have is a story that dates back to the Roman era of the historian Pliny: legend has it that around the year 5000 BC, merchants of sodium carbonate reached the banks of the river Belo in Syria and whilst they were prepping their food, they realized that they did not have suitable stones to support a campfire, so they decided to place soda loaves under their cauldrons taken directly from their carts and set fire to them: '...the natron melted with the heat of the fire and mixed with the sand of the beach and was transformed into a new transparent liquid...'

This story is based on real facts – the ingredients to create glass are all there (sand = silica, soda = sodium carbonate, algae = silicon carbonate) – but it hardly sounds like the story of the true origin of glass, since you need much higher temperatures to create it than the flames of a modest campfire!

Others have theorized that man, upon discovering petrified pieces of sand after strikes of lightning – which definitely does release enough energy to melt elements – began to attempt to recreate this mysterious material.

Legends, stories, hypotheses... but how did it really happen? Searching among the clues that reached us today, we can say that the first information on glass dates back to the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. Around the year 1500 BC, the Egyptians began producing the first glass containers for ointments and oils, but it was thanks to the Romans that the production of glass became more widespread! Suffice it to say that they were the ones who invented and created the first glass windows for noble residences!

In the year 100 a. C. there was a turning point in the evolution of glass: in Syria, where the art of glass arrived through trade and wars, the technique of blowing was invented, replacing the ancient and laborious procedures of hot casting: a glassmaker used a long tube to blow inside a ball of red hot glass paste. Then, by rolling and modeling the paste with other tools, they created thin and elegant objects of all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Arab civilization in the 11th century reached the highest levels of knowledge in the production of glass. The subtlety and accuracy of the objects they created exceeded any object ever made before: the rudimentary creations of impure green glass gave way to works with intense and bright colors or incredibly transparent and resistant ones...

And Venice? Glassmaking reached Venice and the western world later, following the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire... but this is another chapter... want to find out more? Keep following us and if you are going on a trip to Venice, treat yourself to an unforgettable experience in the only furnace left in the historic centre! Get a close look of the magical craft of glassmakers and admire their stunning creations!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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