Gondolas of Venice

written February 18, 2019, by contentadmin

Did you know there were only about 400 gondolieri (gondoliers) and gondolas left in Venice?
One of the favorite student activities is to enjoy a ride on the canals on an iconic symbol of the city; the gondola. These hand built boats have a rich history behind them. 

The elongated modern gondola was developed only in the 19th century by the boat-builder Tramontin, whose heirs still run the Tramontin boatyard. Gondolas measure 11 meters in length and weigh about 1300 pounds.

One unusual fact; the bow line is actually off center. This allows the gondolieri to steer, turn and balance the craft in the small canals and intersections all with a single oar. They balance themselves on the aft part of the gondola and with the odd and graceful push off a wall and with their manipulation of the oar they can turn very tough corners and even choppy waters.  

They use the forcola (loosely meaning fulcrum) to help leverage their oar. This is the metallic support at the back allowing the gondelieri to move forward and back and sideways and to slow down and stop surprisingly quickly. It takes years of apprenticeship to master these skills. Watching them in this graceful ballet is also a big part of the Venetian trip experience for all students, parents and teachers. 

Features of the Gondola

The most recognizable feature of the gondola after its long black shape is the ferro (Italian for ‘iron’). The ornate decoration serves as protection for the boat and also as a counterweight to the gondolier steering at the back. The S of the ferro is symbolic of the shape of the Grand Canal. The six teeth represent Venice’s six quarters (sestieres in Italian). The back-facing tooth represents the Giudecca Canal. By Venetian law, only men (and now women) born in Venice can become gondolier (oarsman).

Today, only a few hundred gondolas remain and it’s a great experience for all students on their trip to Italy. Make sure to include a gondola ride if you make Venice part of your next trip to Venice with your students. It is one of the most memorable experiences.