gondola serenade

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Venice - Rialto Bridge - view

If there is one thing which clearly represents Venice, it is the gondola. This famous boat was originally a common means of transportation for all Venetians, whether they were rich or poor. That said, those who did not row their own gondola themselves had someone else to do it: the “gondolier”, who was essentially a personal driver. Each gondolier was dressed according to the colors of the family he was working for.

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The first mention of the name “Gondola” is dated from the 11th century. The boat’s name changed as the years passed; it was not until the 15th century that the term “gondola” was fully adopted. By the 16th century, there were no less than 10 000 gondolas navigating the canals of Venice. At first, gondolas were flatter and required two drivers but in the 19th century, they became asymmetrical in order to improve their navigation: both bow and stern were raised and the center of gravity was shifted to the right. The gondolier would then push from the left, which allows the gondola some measure of balance in order to go straight.

Composed of nearly 300 pieces from eight different types of wood, gondolas measure around 11 meters long and are only 1.38 in width at their largest point. These flat-bottom boats have on the bow a special piece made of metal named “fero de prova” (in Venetian) or “ferro di prua” in Italian. It represents many signs of the city: first, the hat of a doge, then the reversed S of the Grand Canal and third, the different islands of Venice that make up its six sestieri (districts): Canareggio Santa Croce, San Polo, Castello, San Marco, Dorsoduro and Island of Giudeca.

In the past, the gondolas were painted with beautiful colors and ornamented with precious stones. Noble families would compete with each other to have the most beautiful gondola in the city. This phenomenon became so big that in the 17th century, the Doge published a decree saying that all gondolas had to be completely black and undecorated. That is why today we can admire all these wonderful black gondolas. There are roughly 500 gondolas navigating the waters nowadays, most of which are in the business of taking tourists through the canals to explore Venice.