European Tours

The queens of Venetian canals: Wonderful history of gondolas

When the average inhabitant of the planet Earth hears the word “Venice”, he immediately imagines himself, huddled in a gondola, sliding down the Great canal while listening to the gondolier singing some Italian “canzone”.

There is no doubt that the gondola is a symbol of Venice, although anyone who has visited “the Queen of the Adriatic” and “The Bride of the Sea” knows that this romantic picture does not correspond with reality.

By the beginning of the 16th century, in the capital of the then Venetian Republic, there were about 10,000 gondolas that sailed through its canals and transported officials, traders and goods. However, the gondoliers quickly gained a bad reputation: they confronted each other around the territories and customers, gambled, took money from the passengers with a threat of weapons, and even resorted to physical violence.

That’s why the wealthy Venetians bought their own gondolas and employed two gondoliers who transported them around the city and maintained the boat.

The gondola thus became a status symbol, equipped in accordance with the needs of the private owner, richly decorated, carved, gold-plated, with a cabin cushioned in silk, stunningly colorful with the desire to attract attention and show that her owner has a great life experience, but also follows fashion trends.

The fact that all the gondolas are blackened today is the result of the decision of the Venetian authorities in 1562, according to which all the gondolas in Serenissima, except ceremonial ones, must be black to avoid extravagance.

Of course, the wealthiest of the Venetians preferred to pay penalties, thereby further emphasizing their superior status. Today’s shape of the gondola was acquired in the 19th century, although they developed until the mid-20th century, when the city authorities forbade further modification.

In the past, every gondola was built in a small family shipyard called “squero”; from father to son, then to grandson and great grandson, and so on, it was learned how to choose wood of the best quality, and so they used beech, cherry, pine, larch, lime, mahogany, oak or walnut.

Most of the 500 hours of time, that was needed for the production of a single gondola, was used for the last stage of production: varnishing with waterproof coatings. Each family had a secret recipe that was jealously guarded, and the coating was applied several times.

When it was all done, the whole process was not over yet. Then the producers of additional parts came to the stage. Specialized craftsmen supplied their colleagues with cabins, ornaments. Manufacturers of oars became their inseparable partners in time.

The luxuriously carved paddle fork “forcola,” began as an extremely simple and reduced fork, but evolved into a very precise tool that allows the gondolier to row in countless different ways, thus manipulating the boat through the crowded and narrow Venetian canals.

At the end of the 19th century, the gondola makers began to make the left side of the boat wider from the right, as a counterweight to the force created by a gondolier, which allowed them to steer the boat from the right without raising the oar from the water.

Of course, technological advances have led to the fact that there are only about 400 gondolas in Venice today, whose services are exclusively used by tourists at high prices. Born Venetians have switched to more modern forms of transport through their canals, such as speedboats and motorboats. If it was not for the tourists, the gondola would probably be extinct.

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