The creative masterpieces that cruise the canals of Venice
Narrow cobbled streets, vibrant colourful houses and rustic red roof tiles: Venice is known for its character and charm. Built on an archipelago in the Adriatic Sea, the romantic ambiance of the city is steeped in history and tradition from the marble palaces, ornate bridges and Venice’s iconic waterway transport: gondolas. These flat-bottomed boats, with a high point at each end, are operated with a rowing oar in a sculling motion. The gondolier stands facing the bow and rows with a forward stroke before executing a compensating backward stroke.
The boats’ origins are lost to history, with the first reference to them gliding the canals of Venice appearing in 1094. They didn’t resemble the iconic water vessel we know today and have undergone several changes to truly perfect the art of navigating low-hanging bridges and mud-flats. The 13th-century gondola had 12 oars, and by the 15th century the vessel had shrunk in size and gained a cabin (felze).
Gondolas quickly became a status symbol, with owners adorning their boats in lavish silks and precious metals. In 1562, authorities introduced legislation that required all gondolas to be painted black. Such displays of grandeur were frowned upon by the religious community, so this measure was introduced to prevent unnecessary ostentatious displays of wealth. Gondola artisans were restricted to only including specific decorations, a design tradition that still continues to this day. It is estimated approximately 10,000 gondolas graced the waterways during the 1600s. These were also accompanied by batellas, caorlinas, galleys and other boats. Today, there are only around 400 licensed to work on the canals, and traditionally gondolier licenses and crafting methods were passed down from father to son. To date, there is only one official female gondolier.
Risso One of the few ornamental additions permitted by Venetian authorities. Forcola This oarlock is a piece of cured walnut wood attached to the stern of the boat that has been fashioned into a curve with various notches in which to place the oar depending on the type of rowing. Gondolier The gondolier rows and steers from the starboard side of the stern. Venetian gondolas are designed perfectly to navigate the city’s narrow waterways Gondoliers are obliged to wear strictly regulated clothing, of either a white sailor’s shirt or a striped shirt in red or navy, and a straw boater. In winter, they are permitted to wear a navy woollen reefer jacket Ferro A curving piece of metal sitting at the bow acts as a counterweight to the gondola to keep the boat level.