Vene­tian gon­do­las

The cre­ative mas­ter­pieces that cruise the canals of Venice

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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.

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