Discover the history of the famous black boat used for centuries in the lagoon which has now become the symbol of the city itself. It’s hard to imagine Venice without its quintessentially venetian boat, the Gondola! Even today, the craft of constructing the venetian gondola (link PM) is carried out by master carpenters in the squeri, the traditional rowing boat shipyard in Venice.
Discover the secrets behind taking a gondola ride in the Grand Canal. Gondalas are flat bottomed boats that are driven with a single oar, requiring a skilled rower. The most famous of these rowers are the gondoliers, but they are not the only ones! If you watch out you might also see two and four-oared gondolas sailing on the Grand Canal.
How the gondola is made
The gondola is the most typical of Venetian boats. Dark in color and with a long slender shape, it is 10.85 metres long and 1.44 metres wide. It has a flat bottom to allow navigation even in very shallow waters, such as those of the lagoon.
One of its unusual features is that its bottom is asymmetric in order to balance the weight of the gondolier on the opposite side! Eight different types of wood are used in its construction. Oak, larch, fir, linden, elm, walnut, mahogany, and some cherrywood.
Nowadays, the gondola is still produced in Venice, in the “squero” or craftsman’s workshop which always opens towards the canals of venice. The most famous is the squero of San Trovaso, which is in the style of a “mountain hut” underlining the fact that the artisans have their origins in the mountainous areas of Belluno.
Building a gondola involves at least 12 months of work of the “squeraiol”, the famous master carpenters in Venetian language!
A boat that takes itself seriously – but not too much!
Have you ever wondered why the gondola was always built in black?
Well, as a matter of aesthetics, black has always been considered synonymous with elegance, and nobles loved being fashionable!
But before elegance entered the lagoon, a private gondola would be decorated in over the top bright colours and patterns. A celebration of kitsh and ostentation!
So in 1609 a decree was issued, which obliged the boat typical of the Venice lagoon, to be painted only in black! This kept things elegant and practical, given that the colour of the pitch used to waterproof it is also black.
What to know before boarding
If the gondolier tells you where to sit, it’s for a reason!
As the boat is Asymmetric, we advise you not to move too much and not to change places, unless you want the gondolier to end up in the water!
And if you really want a romantic gondola ride you can kiss your lover under the Rialto Bridge
The prow of the gondola: the symbol of Venice!
The front part of the gondola is called the “bow iron”, it is not just ornamental as each element of its design has a hidden meaning!
The six metal lines correspond to the 6 Sestieri di Venezia
The rear-facing tooth shape symbolizes the Giudecca island area.
All the iron has the form of inverted “S”, a reference to the Grand Canal and the well known Rialto bridge.
The upper part of the iron has the shape of the Doge’s hat
The most imaginative designs add three leaves: Murano, Burano and Torcello, the most famous islands of the lagoon.
More information about Gondolas can be found in other articles:
Being a Gondolier in Venice (PS link)
Voga Veneta: the art of sailing in the lagoon
Venice gondola ferry: how to cross the Canal!
Squero Venice: visit the most famous gondola workshop
How much is a gondola in Venice?
A gondola ride in Venice a real venetian experience
Rowing courses: learn the art of rowing a gondola!