10 Interesting Gondola Facts
Gondola facts – 8 types of wood and 280 component pieces are used to make one gondola. This is one of the interesting facts about the emblem of Venice and the Veneto.
There are many theories concerning the origin of the word ‘gondola’, but is has never been satisfactorily established. According to the Italian dictionary lo Zingarelli the word ‘gondola’ may derive from the Greek ‘kondoura’ meaning ’small boat’.
The gondola is a flat-bottomed rowing boat especially adapted to conditions in the Venetian lagoon. The earliest recorded use of gondolas in Venice dates back to the 11th century.
Modern gondolas are handmade but highly uniform. They all weigh 700kg, have 280 component pieces and use eight types of wood – ie. oak, elm, lime, larch, fir, cherry, walnut, and mahogany.
All gondolas have an oar or ‘rèmo’ (made from beech) and a walnut ‘forcola’ or rowlock. The oar and the forcola are designed to allow eight distinct manoeuvres such as slow forward rowing, powerful forward rowing, turning, slowing down, rowing backwards, and stopping. In addition each forcola is carved to suit individual gondoliers.
In previous centuries gondolas could be many different colours, but a law from the 16th century requires gondolas to be painted black. The law stopped a competition for the most flamboyant colours and ornamentation among the nobility. As a result gondola exteriors have just three flourishes – a curly tail, a pair of seahorses and a multi-pronged prow.
The Purpose of the Prow
The prow is known as the ‘ferro’ (iron), but it can be made from brass, stainless steel, or aluminium. The ferro serves several purposes. It prevents the boat from damage if the gondola collides with other boats or bulwarks, and it serves as a counterweight for the gondolier. It also has ornamental value with the six prongs that may represent the six administrative districts in Venice.
The modern banana-shaped gondola is credited to the 19th century boat-builder Tramontin, whose heirs still run the Tramontin boatyard (Some guided tours include a visit). The constructional development of the gondola continued until the mid-20th century, when the city government prohibited further modifications.
Not an Even Keel
All gondolas are slightly lopsided and bow out on the left. This asymmetry causes the gondola to resist the tendency to turn toward the left at the forward stroke and compensates for the weight of the gondolier, who stands in the stern and rows only on the right side.
Gondolas with Cabins
In old films and photographs gondolas are often fitted with a small cabin. Its windows could be closed with louvered shutters—the original ‘venetian blinds’. Later the ‘felze’ was replaced by a ‘tendalin’ summer awning, but they too were given up in the mid-1950s.
How to Become a Gondolier
There are just over four hundred gondolas in active service today, virtually all of them used for hire by tourists. In order to become a professional gondolier you need to obtains a license from the guild. Licenses are only granted after periods of training and apprenticeship, and an exam which tests knowledge of Venetian history and landmarks, foreign language skills, and practical skills in manoeuvring the gondola through narrow canals.
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Interesting post – and quite an assortment of unusual woods that go into making the gondola. Thanks for the info.
You’re welcome. And the trivia might come in handy in a game of Trivial Pursuit:)
Interesting with behind-the-scenes info like this.
Yes, and facts a so useful when you are travelling with children, who tend to ask more questions than anyone can answer.
This is all great information and good to know trivia. While I love the elegance of the black-colored gondolas, it would have been awesome to see it in flamboyant colors. Very interesting about the three flourishes. I will have to look at my gondola pictures to examine them more closely.
Please do. The details can be quite surprising.
Wow! This post was so cool… I know about gondola’s obviously but now I learn more of it and its magnificent how this long boats are made. As an Italian I want to always know more about my country and sometimes you give stuff “per scontato” since you are from that country but when you get new informations on the beauty of it you fall in love once more. Grazie for this great post!
Some of these facts I have from a late night TV programme on Rai1. But you are right: When you are very familiar with things you stop wondering.
Very interesting post, Mette. I’ve learned a few things today — I had no idea gondolas were that uniform or that there were that many operating.
I’ve reached my goal then. Thanks Marcia.
Particularly interesting about the woods used and the design. I’d never imagined that there was so much to it! All the best from Chile…
Thanks Andrew, It’s not everyday I receive a greeting from Chile:)
This was all very interesting. I’ve always wanted to ride in a gondola, but had no idea about its history. I never noticed in photos that they were all black!
Thank you for the history and info on gondolas. I’m going to Italy for a month and will be taking a ride on a gondola. Now I will be looking for various aspects of the gondola while I’m on one. Very good info.
Currently, it costs about 80 euro for a daytime ride of approximately 40 minutes and about 100 euro for an evening/night ride.
I’m glad to hear that. In my opinion a little trivia spices up most kinds of traveling.
Good to know there is a licensing process.
Yes, can’t even start to imagine the chaos without.