The fascinating secrets of the Venetian Gondola

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The gondola [GON-doh-lah] is the typical Venetian boat, suitable to transport people. Initially only persons of high rank used their gondola to get around town. Each noble family had its own private gondola, and of course a gondolier, called de casada (of the house). At that time only the hull was black, because of the pitch used to waterproof it. The boats were instead very rich in colours and decorations, because this served to the families to prove their wealth and importance. In 1609 the Senate of Venice decided to put an end to this rivalry between noble families that competed to reach the greatest pomp and decreed that all gondolas had to be equal. From that time on they were completely black.

Gondola – Did you know…

  • The etymology is uncertain. It could come from the Greek kondura, some sort of boat, or from còncula, shell. Or maybe from the Latin gondeia, a kind of ship, or cunula, diminutive of crib. The only sure thing is the document in which the term appears for the first time: a decree of Doge Vitale Falier (1094).
  • The shipyard where the gondolas are built is the squero. Currently in Venice there are 5 squeri (plural of squero) that still build gondole (plural of gondola). If you want to learn more about it, read my post about the Venetian squero.
  • gondola consists of 280 different pieces, manufactured with 8 species of woodOak, Fir, Cherry tree, Larch, Linden, Walnut, Mahogany and Elm (each one of them suitable for certain parts of the boat). It takes months of work to build one. The gondola then lasts about 30 years.
  • Nowadays in Venice there are about 500 gondole, whereas in the XVIII century there were 1.500.
  • A gondola is approximately 11 meters long and has an asymmetric shape, with the left side wider than the right, and is conducted by one gondolier, who uses only one oar (4,20 meters long, made of Beech), leaning on an oarlock called forcola.
Fero da prora, gondola
Fero da prora, gondola
  • The typical comb or prow iron (in Venetian fero da prora or dolfin) helps to balance the weight of the gondolier. Its S form recalls the Grand Canal, while the six teeth facing forward represent the six districts of Venice. The tooth facing backward stands for the Giudecca Isle. The small arch over the highest tooth is the Rialto Bridge. The arched part at the top has a peculiar name, the Doge’s hat.
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