Gondola and Venice. It's not possible to talk about the first one
without talking about the second since the gondola is considered one
of the symbols of the city. The origin of the gondola is ancient, from over 1000 years ago.
The first kind of gondola was called scaula and it
was a rowing boat that was really stocky, with the shape of a nut.
Through the generations the gondola changed to a more elongated shape
with the characteristic flat keel, which is perfect to avoid getting
beached in the shallow lagoon. The origin of the name "gondola" seems
to be controversial. Some
experts speculate that the origin of the name comes from latin word
cymbula (small boat) or from concha (concula=shell).
Others speculate that it comes from the greek word kuntelas,
joining the words kontos (short) and helas (shuttle).
There is an official note about a gondulam since 1094,
in which a decree of Doge Vitale Falier made mention of it.
The length of a gondola is 10,85 metres and the medium width is about
1,40 metres. Many kinds of wood are used to make a gondola: fir, cherry,
chestnut, elm, oak, linden tree and many more. It can take up to 2 years
to build it, using about 280 wooden pieces, and its weight is about
350 kg. Apart from the hull there are other fundamental parts required to make
a complete gondola. They are: the irons (one on the prow,
the other on the stern) and the forcola, (the support for
the oar). In ancient times it was common to use the
It was a closed cabin, located in the middle of the boat, used as a bachelor
apartment. It was perfect for lovers, hidden from curious eyes.
The weight of the iron prow is 10 kg, or more if heavier metals are
used. The six "teeth" of this iron represent the six districts (sestieri),
the upper part represents Doge's hat. The forcola is made of walnut
and is produced by the remer. The oar is made of beech wood.
In the nearby of the Salute Church, between S. Gregorio and the
Guggenheim Collection, is located a workshop that produces
forcole and oars for the gondola, made by Saverio Pastor.
Dorsoduro 341, Fondamenta Soranzo detta Fornace. Phone and
fax: +39 041 5225699. Opening hours 8,30am-12,30am and 2,00pm-6,00pm,
closed on Saturday and Sunday. Another workshop that produces oars and forcole
used by gondola is located in S. Polo 2768/B, only twenty metres from the
Carlo Goldoni. This workshop is directed by Franco Furlanetto
and respects the following schedule: Monday-Wednesday-Friday 8,30-18,30
Tue-Thu 8,30-17 Saturday 8,30-13. Phone +39 041 5209544.
The boatyards where gondolas are made are called squeri,
from the greek word "eskharion". In ancient times in the city there were tens
of squeri. In the sixteenth century there were 10,000 gondolas.
Many squeri were distributed along the banks of the Grand Canal, but because
they hindered the navigation, a decree in 1433 moved them to the Arsenal. Today
in Venice there are only two squeri in existance: the San Trovaso boatyard and
the Tramontin boatyard.
Today there are about 600 gondolas.
The gondola has a characteristic asymmetric shape (to the right),
created for permitting the gondolier to row with minor effort. The "squerarolo" must
construct it on special models (called "sesti") and have to bend many wooden
parts with fire. Everything must be perfect and all this is obtained by the experience
of "axe-masters". The most celebrated was Domenico Tramontin who invented the actual
shape of the gondola in the first years of twentieth century. Moreover there are two
famous "axe-masters" that helped to develop and to preserv this special boat: Corrado
Costantini and Giovanni Giuponi (the second one made the "disdotona", a parade-boat
with 18 paddles).
The gondola is painted black, considered the colour of elegance by Venetians.
Until the sixteenth century it could have different colours and adornments
that were forbidden by Senate laws. Some people say that the black colour was given
to the gondola for the mourning following the pestilence of 1630 that killed half of
the population, but the colour of mourning in Venice, during the Serenissima Republic,
was the red.
Until the nineteenth century there were about 20 ferry-gondolas to cross the Grand
Canal. That number was drastically reduced following the construction of the Accademia
Bridge before (1854), and the Scalzi Bridge, later (1857). These bridges, with the Rialto
Bridge (1588) and soon the Ponte della Zirada, allow people to cross the Grand Canal
without the help of a boat.
The ferry-gondola is wider than a normal one. It is rowed by two gondoliers and can
carry up to 14 people. The fare to cross the Grand Canal by gondola is
0,70 euros each (for Venetians), tourists pay 2,00 euros each.
The ferry-gondola (traghetto) can be considered an inexpensive solution
for people to experience the feeling of a short ride. The fare during the day for
a 40-minute gondola ride is 80 euros, for up to six people. The night fare is 100 euro,
Gondola-ferry (Traghetti), times
Fontego dei Turchi to San Marcuola: Actually closed for restoration.
Pescheria to Santa Sofia: Monday-Sunday 9am-9pm.
Riva del Vin to Riva del Carbon: Mon-Sat 8,30am-12,30pm.
San Tomą to Ca' Garzoni: Mon-Sun 9am-7pm.
Ca' Rezzonico to San samuele: Mon-Sat 7,45am-10,45am (only during the school year).
Salute to Santa Maria del Giglio: all week 9am-6pm.
Punta della Dogana to S. Marco Vallaresso: all week 9am-2pm.
The institution assigned to protect the gondola is the Ente Gondola.
For information or complains, phone +39 041 5285075.
The man who drives the gondola is naturally the gondolier,
that in ancient times was called barcaiolo. Every noble family in Venice
had a private gondolier called de casada. At that age the gondoliers
were united in corporation and had their own corporate headquarter inside of
S. Silvestro Church. The profession of gondolier was handed down from father
to son but actually the designation is given after an open competition. It
caused a sensation in 1999 the first request of a woman to become a gondolier.
The German Alexandra Hai, native of Hamburg, that rows the gondola from long
time ago, has taken part in some open competitions but having no success, yet.
However some recourses could give her soon the wished licence.
Finally, a suggestion: if you wish reduce your cost on the fare of your gondola ride,
you can ask to other tourists to share the ride (and the fare) with you. Remember, for
one person or up to six people, the fare is the same: 80 euros.
Gondolas are available at:
Rialto: telephone +39 041 5224904.
Bacino Orseolo: ph. +39 041 5289316.
Danieli: telephone +39 041 5222254.
Dogana: telephone +39 041 5206120.
Ferrovia: ph. +39 041 718543.
Piazzale Roma: ph. +39 041 5221151.
Santa Maria del Giglio: ph. +39 041 5222073.
San Marco: telephone +39 041 5200685.
Santa Sofia: ph. +39 041 5222844.
San Tomą: telephone +39 041 5205275.
Trinitą: ph. +39 041 5231837.
In the near future it will be possible to
book a gondola ride online.
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