Visiting the city of Venice you will have the memorable opportunity to admire our traditional venetian Gondola. In fact, as in the old times, many of the iconic black boats still navigate the Grand Canal and the minor canals of Venice.
The elegant and sinuous black boats are famous all over the world and are commonly associated with Venice, a bit like pizza is associated with Naples. However, not many people know that gondolas truly carry the symbol of the city!
Symbol that is found in the iron prow-head of the gondola. The sort of comb in front of each boat, which has the function of balancing the boat itself. Its shape, in fact, is not random at all:
- the S-shape resumes the twists of the Grand Canal;
- the six forward facing teeth correspond to the six districts of Venice;
- the tooth facing inwards represents the Giudecca island;
- the arch above the last tooth represents the Rialto Bridge;
- the curved top end symbolizes the Doge’s hat.
So, we have already revealed some secrets to you… are you ready to dive deeper into the world of gondolas?
Venice and the Gondola in history
The history of Venice and that of the gondola have intertwined since the XV Century, perhaps even earlier. It is however from the 1400s that we have certain evidence of this in many paintings.
After all, this elegant rowing boat was the equivalent of a carriage for nobles and wealthy people; as such it was used as their official mode of transportation in Venice. It is no coincidence that the gondolas were fitted with a ‘felze’, a sort of movable cabin, that served to protect their guests from the weather (and from prying eyes).
As with luxury cars nowadays, gondolas used to follow the fashion of the time with different colours and accessories… well, this is what happened until 1609. In fact, on that same year the Senate decree set very strict limits on the use of fabrics, gold inlays and other precious decorations. This is where their black color comes from!
The construction of the gondolas in Venice
Now that we have debunked some clichés, let’s see what makes this rowboat so special.
How do you construct a Venician gondola? The first phase begins with the choice and a first cut of the wooden boards required. 8 different types of wood are necessary. These are then left to mature for a whole year before the ax master actually starts the job.
The actual construction begins with the skeleton of the boat, after that the sides (called serci) are added; once the other structural elements are completed (transti, fiuboni, kolombe and nomboli), the waterproofing process can take place.
Finally, six coats of paint!
To tell the truth, at this stage the gondola is not quite finished yet: in fact, once the central body is built, the parecio is still missing. This means all the embellishments which differentiate each gondola from each other still have to be added. This phase, as you can imagine, is fundamental as it makes each gondola unique!
Where are gondolas built? Journey to the Squero of Venice
The squero in Venice is the shipyard for small rowing boats of the Venetian tradition: mascarete, sandoli, caorline and certainly, the famous gondolas.
Today only 5 squeri remain active on the island, but in ancient times there were many more! Seen from outside a squero is easily recognizable:
- it is singularly characterized by wood, which recalls the relationship with the mountains from which the construction material comes from;
- it has a covered area, which is closed on each side, except the side towards the water, called tesa. Here is where boats are built and repaired;
- the open tesa ends with a ramp towards the water. This ramp was required to take the boat in and out of the water with the only help of a trolley (the electric bridge cranes, have only recently been introduced to help men in this activity!)
Visiting a squero today is truly exciting, an incredible leap in time accompanied by an ax master (whom we call squerarol) who will tell you about construction techniques and stories that have remained almost unchanged over time.
The Venice Remer and the Gondola Forcola
We now come to introduce you to another fundamental figure in the life of a gondola: the Venice remer.
The remer is the craftsman who creates the moving parts of non-motor boats, i.e. oars and forks. It is no coincidence that we used the term “create”: in fact, the hands of the remer model with passion, following ancient traditions, a piece of wood until it is reborn as oar or pitchfork.
Most people think this is easy: after all, isn’t the oar a long wooden scoop? Believe us, this is not easy at all!
First of all, the oar is not a single piece of wood:
- the main body is formed by a long round stick at the end of the handle (part called giron) which ends on the opposite side with a large and flat figure, a shovel (called pala) which will be the one that caresses and moves the water;
- the knives are the two small insertions on the side of the pala, one of which is longer than the other.
But that’s not all: the oars have different sizes and characteristics based on the type of boat and the rowing person to whom they must be combined. We would say that as an introductory lesson, we can stop here without going into more details … you surely can already appreciate that the work of the remer must be almost surgical! Take some time to follow the hands of the remer while he creates a pope oar or an audition pitchfork … he will take you through the process and tell you this love story like no other!
The Gondolier: in Venice he is the keeper of the city’s secrets
The image which comes to your mind when thinking about a gondolier is probably the following: a man with striped shirt, black pants and straw hat. But do you know that this “uniform” is rather recent and is linked to the success of the movie “Venice, the moon and you” ? In this movie, the famous italian actor Alberto Sordi impersonates a charming gondolier dressed exactly in that way.
Being a gondolier is an ancient profession, which takes a lot of preparation. In fact, in order to become a gondolier, one needs to attend a special school and pass a difficult final exam. Lessons include the study of some foreign languages and of the history of Venice. Did you know that nowadays there are over 600 licenced gondoliers in Venice, mostly working to offer unforgettable gondola tours to tourists?
We have revealed some secrets of the gondolier, but there would still be a lot to tell you! Even if the profession of the gondolier has changed over time … gondoliers are still the keepers of our fascinating city’s secrets!
The gondola ride and Venice seen from the water
A gondola ride is a bit of a must do activity when you visit Venice, so much that it seems almost obvious. However, believe us, being on a gondola boat is a really nice adventure, probably one of the best experiences in Venice!
Lulled by the gentle movement of the water and fascinated by the stories your gondolier will tell you, you will have a truly unrivaled perspective of the city. If it’s your first time on the island, going on one of Venice gondola rides is an experience you shouldn’t skip!
Our advice is to get away from the Basilica di San Marco (st Mark’s Basilica), Piazza San Marco (St Mark square) and Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs). These areas are certainly beautiful places, but the risk is staying in line for a long time. We suggest instead you go into the smaller and quieter canals of Venice for a more peaceful and authentic gondola ride!
What is the price of a Venice gondola?
In the past, there has been a lot of negative publicity on the price of the Venice gondola … and perhaps, quite rightly so. However, things have changed. Since few years now, the official prices are published at each gondola station in a clear manner. Prices are the same throughout the city. To give you an idea, for a 30-minute gondola ride during the daytime, the cost is € 80 for up to 6 people, while if you prefer to sail the canals under the stars the gondola ride cost is minimum € 100.
We offer shared gondola ride at 33€. If you are more than 3 persons, we higly recommand a private gondola ride (105 EUR) for more intimacy !
Especially in high season or for evening tours, our advice is to reserve your tour in advance: the surcharge for early booking is negligible but will guarantee you to skip the line and leave exactly at the chosen time. This way you will not be wasting any time and you will be able to choose the part of the island to visit!
Gondola ferry: ecological Venice
To date, there are only four bridges to cross the Grand Canal. You may wonder how to get to the other shore of the canal if you are not in close proximity to any of these bridges? The gondola ferry in Venice is the right answer! This is a classic gondola in every aspect, except for the fact that it is maneuvered by two gondoliers. The current price for this sort of water taxi service is € 2.50 per person (much less than the vaporetto!). There are 7 places where you can find this shuttle service between one shore and another and the opening time is from 7 am in the morning tp 7 in the evening (with a little flexibility on the timing!)
Canoeing in Venice
The canoe in Venice is an imported boat that has only recently started to go around the canals of the lagoon. The main reason people opt for a canoe is that paddling in a canoe is certainly easier than rowing the Venetian gondola with a single oar. Having said that: if you don’t feel like trying the magic of the oar of our tradition, canoeing is certainly an excellent alternative! This could be your perfect solution to visit the canals of the city and have a view of Venice from an unusual perspective!
We also have many other secrets of the city to reveal to you!
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