Gondola in Venice

Within the Venetian lagoon there are over 400 Gondola used for every type of activity ranging from weddings to funerals, from pageants to regattas.  Elegant techniques of rowing are expertly used by the gondolier to steer through often extremely narrow canals despite the gondola being almost 11 metres long, weighing 4 quintals.  Although hated by Mussolini who thought the gondola was unworthy of modern times.

THE GONDOLA - Traditional Venetian Transportation

Within the Venetian lagoon there are over 400 Gondola used for every type of activity ranging from weddings to funerals, from pageants to regattas.  Elegant techniques of rowing are expertly used by the gondolier to steer through often extremely narrow canals despite the gondola being almost 11 metres long, weighing 4 quintals. 

Although hated by Mussolini who thought the gondola was unworthy of modern times. Within the Venetian lagoon there are over 400 Gondola used for every type of activity ranging from weddings to funerals, from pageants to regattas. 

Elegant techniques of rowing are expertly used by the gondolier to steer through often extremely narrow canals despite the gondola being almost 11 metres long, weighing 4 quintals.  Although hated by Mussolini who thought the gondola was unworthy of modern times.

One of the most well known and romantic images portraying Venice is the gondola.  It is the most famous Venetian vessel also considered the most elegant means of transport.  This is why over the centuries much emphasis has been placed on it's physical appearance for both construction as well as its interior.

Furnishings such as the ‘ferro' (characteristic comb shaped iron work to represent the 6 areas of Venice), the special shape of the ‘Forcola (typical oar holder),the curl like stern.  So in order to transport the first tourists and wealthy foreigners around Venice the only boat that could be used was that which was used by the local nobility. 

This quaint and touristy view of the gondola should not hide the fact that it is an important development in shipbuilding technology.  Despite it's small size it is a refined model of naval design.  To give an idea of just how efficient it is, precise research has found that the level of energy used by the gondolier to row a gondola with three passengers aboard, is equal to that used by a person to walk at  the same speed.

This results from continuous refining of the construction process which has been developed over the years.  The gondola's asymmetric structure enables the gondolier to row whilst standing up but only on the right hand side.  The flat bottom allows it to cruise even in very low water. 

The gondola is 150 cms wide, the left side being 24 cms wider than the right.  The efficiency of the gondola depends on not only well established techniques of construction, but also the quality of wood used is very important.

On average it takes three months work to make a gondola and uses 8 different types of wood (fir, cherry wood, larch, mahogany, chestnut, elm, oak, linden.) depending on which wood has proved to be the most efficient over time for each of it's 280 parts. 

The building of the gondola is very difficult and requires much experience as well as an eye for aesthetics.  Accuracy is needed as a bend slightly too high or low could result in the gondola looking clumsy.  The cost of a gondola is very high and varies from 15 to 30 thousand Euro depending on the finish. 

Today's gondola has undergone gradual change over the centuries and is not the same as we see in the paintings of Canaletto or Carpaccio.  Such as we no longer see the elegant central compartment known as the ‘felze' because it obstructs the view of the city for tourists. 

However it is not to be assumed that the original gondola was primitive, it didn't have to face the dangerous ‘moto ondoso' (water movement caused by high speed boats) of today.  

Visit the Museo Storico Navale (Castello 2148. Arsenale. Tel: 0415200276) where there is a room dedicated to the gondola.  Or to see how they are built and repaired visit the ‘squèro' (boatyard) of San Trovaso (near the Accademia) or the ‘Squèro Tramontin'(behind the ‘Ognissanti' church).  

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