Gondole, gondoliere, traghetti, Venice
“Today the weather is triumphant, and my views of life consequently more cheerful. It is so warm that we are going out presently in the gondola, to take up a few dropped stitches. Venice, after all, is incomparable, and during this visit I have penetrated into little slits of streets in every direction on foot. The canals only give one a visiting acquaintance. The calli make you an intimate of the household.”
— from a letter written by James Russell Lowell (1819-1891, American poet & diplomat) to Thomas Hughes in1873
Today, gondolas are built and repaired at only three remaining boatyards in the city; the Squero di San Trovaso in the Dorsoduro district, dating to the 1600s, is the best known. The squero, as old as Venice itself, was a place where many different water crafts were built and repaired, from galleys to gondolas, large sea-going ships to small punts. The name squero comes from the carpenter’s tool, the square, squara in the Venetian dialect.
Over the years many squero disappeared as the demand for their product declined. Today, the few skilled craftsmen pass the secrets of the trade from father to son, or from master to apprentice. Each craftsman, called a squerarolo, uses experience built-up over many years. It takes a minimum of three years of training, followed by a final exam, before a craftsman can become a Maestro d’Ascia, master shipwright.
The squero looks like a mountain chalet, called a tesa. This links the squerarolo families to the Alps, especially the Cadore and Zoldana Valleys. The tesa offers protection from the weather and is used to store tools and gear. Each squero has a sloping yard leading to the water; it is fenced in on either side. The squerarolo, shipwright, or owner often lives next-door or above the yard.
Before starting construction of a gondola, the timber, which must be defect-free, is selected. Eight types of wood, oak, deal, elm, cherry, larch, walnut, linden and mahogany, are used for a gondola. The timber is seasoned for a year. Construction consists of five steps. A gondola is finished when the oars and oarlocks have been added. It takes about 500 hours to build a gondola.
“Just now I am looking forward to going out after dinner in our gondola, and hearing the musicians sing their tuneful folk songs on the Grand Canal.”
—from “Italian Castles and Country Seats” 1911 by Tryphosa Bates-Batcheller (1876-1952, American social climber)
The first four photos of the gondolas shown in this section were taken of a vessel under the portico in the courtyard of Palazzo Ducale.
Until the early 20th century a removable wooden cabin, called the felze, (see photo #2) sat in the center of the gondola. Used to shelter passengers, it fell out of favor because it interfered with visibility, therefore not suitable for tourists, who want to see Venice. Today, the gondola is used exclusively by tourists. There are approximately 500 gondolas in the city today. A small number compared to more than 10,000 gondolas that plied the waters of Venice in 1580.
Every detail of the gondola is symbolic, especially the metal parts. The iron prow-head (see photo #5) is elegant, with a practical usefulness. This feature, called fero da prorà or dolfin, balances the weight of the gondolier, standing at the stern. Its “S” shape symbolizes the twists of Canal Grande. Under the top blade there are six prongs, rebbi; that stand for the six sestieri, districts of Venice. A seventh prong juts backwards toward the center of the gondola; this is called risso di poopa (literally meaning, hedgehog of the stern). This symbolizes the island of Giudecca. On some gondolas, three friezes can be seen between the six prongs; this stands for the three main bridges in the city: the Rialto Bridge, the Ponte dell’Accademia and the Ponte degli Scalzi.
The price of a gondola ride is fixed by the city; though it is known that many gondoliers do not always adhere to these costs. That’s why it may be necessary to be prepared to negotiate the price and length of ride before your trip begins. During peak tourist season, the summer, when the demand is great the ride will not be cheap. A nighttime ride will be more expensive.
Gondola stands can be found throughout the city. Directly in front of Piazza San Marco is an obvious choice; another is at the Church of San Moisè, not far from Piazza San Marco. Some trips include a tour down the Grand Canal; while others wonder through the quieter side canals. It is possible to book a ride through a travel agent, a Venice travel web site, or your hotel’s concierge service. This approach eliminates the need to haggle about price.
“The first plunge under the low, black hood of a gondola, especially of a rainy night, has something funereal in it. Four of us sat cowering together, and looked, out of the rain-dropped little windows at the sides, at the scene. Gondolas of all sizes were gliding up and down, with their sharp, fishy-looking prows of steel pushing their ways silently among each other, while gondoliers shouted and jabbered, and made as much confusion in their way as terrestrial hackmen on dry land. Soon, however, trunks and carpet-bags being adjusted, we pushed off, and went gliding away up the Grand Canal, with a motion so calm that we could scarce discern it except by the moving of objects on shore. Venice, la belle, appeared to as much disadvantage as a beautiful woman bedraggled in a thunder-storm.”
— from a letter written in the spring of 1857 by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) to her daughters
Gondolas were once the chief form of transportation throughout Venice. Today they are used for sightseeing by tourists willing to pay steep prices for a ride on one of these storied boats.
The gondola is recognized worldwide as the symbol of the city of Venice. The beauty of the gondola lies in its elegant lines as well as the magical setting in which it travels. Its construction is unique. This vessel is 36 feet (11 meters) long and weighs 1,322 pounds (600 kg). Eight varieties of wood, oak, deal, elm, cherry, larch, walnut, linden and mahogany, are used for the 280 components that go into the make up of each gondola. The only metal elements are the fero da prorà (the six-toothed prow) and the risso (stern). This construction results in a lightweight vessel, allowing it to be maneuvered by only one person, using a single oar.
The gondola has undergone many changes over the centuries. What we know today is the result of a long process, of adapting to the needs of gondoliers and the changing nature of the water. The earliest record of a gondola is in 1094. Doge Vitale Falier issued an official decree that excused the inhabitants of an island south of Venice from providing a gondulam.
Early records do not provide enough details to allow a reconstruction of what the boats looked like. Not until the late 15th and early 16th centuries do pictures painted and illustrations drawn give precise details of this iconic vessel. The gondola’s black color was common to all Venetian boats because pitch was used to water proof them.
Next to our hotel was one of the 7 Traghetto crossings of the Grand Canal.
Ours was going from Campo Santa Sofia, close to the Ca'D'Oro, to the Pescheria the fish market.
These are old gondolas stripped of their brocaded chairs and luxury trimmings. They are rowed by two oarsmen: one who stands in the back like a traditional gondolier, the other closer to the bow.
From my photo you can see that they transport a dozen persons standing in the boat.
That's precisely what I don't like, standing in such a gondola which is lying rather low on the water.
At that moment of my photo there were no waves from the vaporetto's or other motor barges; but what if some standing passenger looses equilibrium? Swimming in the Grand Canal might be an unforgettable travel souvenir!
For those who want to take a chance the traghetto works from 7 - 8 h to about 18 - 20 h. Some have a siesta stop; most don't work on Sunday.
Price was 0.50 € could be 0.60 € nowadays.
The tourists that come to Venice are interested to see the famous Gondolas.
This old transport possibility on the waterways of the city is an attraction for all the visitors of it.
Many travellers have the desire to hear a song when they lie tranquil in the gondola.
The gondolier drives the traditional boat along the narrow canals, and sings for the guests.
This especially whish is more expensive as a normal travel on the water.
The stripes on the mooring poles in Venice remind us of barber poles. I was thinking - Hey ... It's the Barber of Seville -- Not the Barber of Venice. The gondoliers wear striped shirts, but they aren't barbers.
Actually the pole colors represent families of the aristocracy of Venice that owned the pole (serving as a parking place), and the gondoliers wore corresponding shirt colors. The poles really have no relation to barber poles.
I have pictures of red and white, blue and white, yellow and salmon, yellow and white, aqua and white, green and blue and many other combinations. Some poles are unpainted, and some are a solid color. I wonder if those are kind of like loading zones, or official vehicles only or something like that.
According to Wikipedia, "the red and white stripes symbolize the bandages used during the (barbering) procedure: red for the blood-stained and white for the clean bandages. Originally, these bandages were hung on the pole to dry after washing. As the bandages blew in the wind, they would twist together to form the spiral pattern similar to the stripes in the modern day barber pole. The barber pole became emblematic of the barber/surgeon's profession. Later the cloths were replaced by a painted wooden pole of red and white stripes."
Because of the movies Gondolas are very typical in every tourist’s mind. These old fashioned boats are paint in black by law since 1562 because before that the rich people wanted (and could) make their gondolas more impressive so they put colors and expensive carpets. For some people they are tourist traps because you have to pay €80-€120 for only 40 minutes, depending the time of the day (during day time are cheaper). They supposed to be very romantic but the locals use them only once in their lifes, only the day they getting married! :) check pic 1 for one happy bride! The gondolier always standing at the back side of the gondola having the oar at his right side. Usually the oarsmen don’t stand when they oar so I wonder if the gondoliers are the only ones that they stand. Hopefully, the passengers are sitting down in comfortable pillows with nice colors (pic 3).
The Gondoliers don’t sing anymore but they give some basic info of what you see. At least the majority are still dressed in the traditional uniform which is a sweater with stripes, black trousers and a strawhat. If you pass at sunset under Ponte dei Sospiri don’t forget to kiss your beloved because the legend promises eternal love! :)
The main part of the gondola is made by oaks but several other woods are used for many parts of a gondola, about 280 different wood pieces! That’s why it takes about 3 months to be built! If you want to buy one have in hand about 15.000 dollars!
The rates for the ride are official so pay attention and make sure you/they understood what you are going to pay, how long the ride will last and where exactly they will take you. 6 people is the maximum number of people that can share a gondola (less romantic but less expensive too because you share the price with the others).
A funny cheaper alternative is to take a traghetto, which is a gondola style ferry, actually the gondola of the poor! Hehe There are seven points along the grand canal between the train station and San Marco. By traghettoo you can easily cross the other side of the canal for a small charge of 1 euro. Pic 2 shows one before reaching the stop. The locals do it standing up but I guess noone will blame you if you want to sit down. There are timetables and fares info in front of every stop. The stops are:
Fondamente S. Lucia (Railway Station) - Fondamenta San Simeon Piccolo;
Santa Sofia (Ca' D'Oro) - Pescaria ;
Campo del Traghetto - Calle Lanza (Salute Church);
San Samuele - Ca' Rezzonico;
Sant' Angelo - San Toma;
Riva del Carbon - Fondamente del Vin;
San Marcuola - Fondaco dei Turchi (Natural History Museum);
There are about 425 licenced Gondoliers in Venice, each belongs to one of 10 Traghettis (landings). Besides the licenced gondoliers there are about 100 substitutes and some Fiozzi ("apprentices") There are also about 25 Sandolisti (these are indistinguishable from the Gondoliers in uniform, but they operate the shorter vessels)
Each Traghetti has its own regulations, and each elect bancali -representatives 1 bancali for every 10 gondoliers. They serve a 2 year term. The bancali elect a President who again serves for 2 years and is responsible for meetings with the authorities and officials.
Gondoliers traditionally follow their fathers and Grandfathers into the business. A ten year apprenticeship is served under a padrone (owner) A written and practical steering test must be passed before qualifying for a licence. New licences aren't issued, a new gondolier must wait for another gondolier to retire or resign and hand over his licence. If a gondolier dies his licence is passed to his widow.
Up until the early1990's Gondoliers had to be born in Venice, but EEC regulations opened this to outsiders.
Alexandra Hai, a 35 year old Female from USA, born to German and Algerian parents ruffled a few feathers as she endeavoured to become the first female gondolier. Despite failing her exams (blaming it on the male panel) she is now employed by a hotel, to transport their passengers short distances. She hasn't been admitted to the Association or Society of Gondoliers though. This is run on the lines of a traditional guild. At one time members were required to give aid to fugitive nuns, and could be conscripted into the Venetian Army.
The Gondoliers Union offers free foreign language courses as well as Art History and History of Venice.
UPDATE Apparently another female has now broken the 900 year old Male stronghold and has qualified as a Gondolier -Giorgia Boscolo, a mother of 2, and a daughter of a gondolier has passed the stringent exam. (Although media reports concentrate on the fact that 2 other females failed, and Giorgia 'just scraped through, with minimal marks'-no mention of how many males also failed, or scraped through!)
Gondoliers enjoy a reputation of Romance and Mystery. They inhabit a predominantly masculine world, within a profession that adheres to tradition.
Their uniform consists of straw be-ribboned boater and distinctive red and white or blue and white striped t shirt in summer (which may be covered with a light, white jacket (marinera) or red and white or blue and white striped jumper which may be covered by a navy blue or black heavy Marinera in Winter, with either the straw boater or a black beret with pom pom, Black trousers and shoes are worn year round.
Many speak a local dialect with complicated codes. Words that may be identified, whilst manouvering the gondolas may include - Premi! if they want to pass on the left, Stali! to pass on the right, Sciar! if about to stop.
Gondoliers hold certain values, and consider talking about money to be vulgar, they never shout out prices etc, conducting any business in a quiet manner- They will rarely discuss how much they earn.
The local Authorities,Speeding Vaporetto drivers and The Rome Government are the main antagonists of the Gondoliers, they often feel unfairly treated by them, which can lead to strike action or Protests by the Union. One Mayor issued a statement decreeing that random on spot breathaliser tests be carried out on Gondoliers, not because there had ever been a drunken incident, but because it must be assumed that many Gondoliers were rowing their vessels after imbibing much alcohol!!!
Many of the Gondoliers are very good looking! There is a calendar available of black and white photos of some of these Romeos looking mean moody and magnificent!! Il Calendario Dei Gondolieri I think it cost about 8 Euros - Ok Yes, I bought one ;-)
Click on the website below for a view of the calendar, more pics- and some information about gondolas and gondoliers
The Gondola is adorned with traditional ornaments, some purely decorative, some serving a useful purpose.
On the prow of the gondola is a metal FERRO - Weighing 45 pounds it acts as a counterbalance to the gondolier, and protects the prow.
Its double curve symbolises Giudecca, and its blade represents both the Rialto Bridge and a Doges cap.
The 6 teeth represent the 6 sestieri (divisions) of Venice.
LAMA da POPPA is the stern deck, and PAIOLI are the floor boards
The FORCOLA - the rowlock, which can hold the oar in different positions for steering. (slow forward, powerful forward, turning, slowing down and backwards) It is made of walnut
2 brass seahorses (HIPPOCAMPUS) provide ornamentation.
Passengers sit on upholstered chairs or cushions, which may be arranged to counterbalance the gondolier.
The main seat (sental) side chairs (panchetti and careghin) armrests (puggioli)
For weddings (probably the only time a Venetian would travel in a Gondola) a traditional black canopy (FELZE) and flower garlands are added.
Felzes traditionally provided privacy for meetings and illicit activities, but were discarded when tourism took off as they obscured the views.
Gilded Angels adorn Funeral Gondolas - these are very rarely seen. You might see one moored, or travelling to San Michele - the cemetery island.
A brass plate is inscribed with the licence number.
Brass strips (NASTRI) are often inscribed with the gondoliers wife or loved ones names, or with proverbs and sayings.
Please see my other photos and Previous tips for more information on Gondolas
Gondolas have been a form of transport in Venice since the 11th century, for passenger and goods.
Their shape has evolved over the centuries, in order to navigate the waterways of Venice.
Venices canals are often narrow and shallow, with intersections and bridges to negotiate.
Gondolas measure precisely 10.87 m in length and are 1.42 m at their widest point.
A flat underside, and an asymmetrical hull (24cm wider on the left) enables the gondola to tilt to the right, and this pivot like effect assists the gondolier to manouvre from the stern with one long beech wood oar, which has a ribbed blade. The curves at the front and back are raised from the water and are crafted in accordance with the gondoliers weight.
These vessels are hand crafted from 9 different woods - beech, cherry, elm, fir, larch, lime, mahogony, oak and walnut, which has been seasoned in the squero (dock yard). More than 280 separate pieces of wood are used. Each gondola takes 3 months to build at a cost of £10,000 - 20,000
Pitch or black tar was originally used to ensure water tightness. Later, bright coloured paintwork and rich carpets were the fashion, until 1562, when Sumptuary Laws decreed all gondolas were to be black to prevent lavish displays of wealth.
Today, all except ceremonial gondolas are black. The high gloss finish is achieved by 7 layers of lacquer.
A gondola may last 5 - 20 years. Requiring much maintainance. When it becomes warped it might be used on a traghetto route, finally being burned in the glass furnaces on Murano.
Riding a gondola is mainly for tourists, most Venetians today have never been in one.
Once there were more than 10,000 in public use, with nobility owning their private fleet. (There are now about 400 in service)
Gondolas hold upto 6 passengers, Prices are negotiable!!!
I haven't ridden in a gondola, but I understand that the official rate is 62 euros for a 50 minute ride, after 20.00hrs the price rises to 77.50 euros. Each extra 25 mins costs a further 31 euros! (Prices are published in the booklet Un Ospite di Venezia, and there should be a copy at the Gondola ranks)
These prices are only the official rates. In High Season, the gondolier may try to negociate a higher price! (They have been known to ask for upto double the official rate) so it's best to have the rate agreed before boarding. For a cheaper ride, it might be best to seek out a gondolier away from the main tourist sights i.e San Marco, Rialto Bridge and near the train station. Try bargaining for a shorter ride, or share with others standing by.
I'm not sure if there is a discount for children/ senior citizens etc.
I'm not sure if it is cheaper if your ride is included in an organised tour.
As I walked around Venice, I spotted many gondolas gliding along the canals. One night, when it was dark, I could hear what I thought was a recorded song coming from the canal, it was on closer inspection a gondolier singing as he rowed along- it was quite atmospheric, as his voice echoed around the narrow canal in the dark. I also heard an accordian being played one night.
Apparently from May - October there are serenaded night trips which operate in a flotilla.
So if You want a romantic gondola ride for 2 , be prepared to pay a premium!
If You want to travel on a gondola cheaply, just for the experience, Gondola Traghetti are retired tourist gondolas, whose 8 routes cross the Grand Canal at set routes. Mainly used by locals, the way to travel is standing- (sitting down is considered wimpish!) Costs about 0.40 euros.
A cheap (and more entertaining) alternative to the traditional gondola ride is to hop on a traghetto or traghetti (meaning ferry). For a reasonable amount you can take a cruise across the Grand Canal as the locals do. This is the only place they are used.
The Traghetto is a gondola ferry, on which tradition dictates you must stand.
There are 8 places along the Grand Canal where the traghetto can be caught, and it costs next to nothing to use them.
The only worry is whether or not you can balance.
This is our friendly Godolier. He doesn't speak English, I wonder if any of them do. But he is such an entertainer. He sings bilssfully (but not the kind you get on your stereo) & to our horror, at one point, he was jumping up and down at the back of the Gondola. But what a ride it was.
We were on a packaged tour, don't know exactly how much it would cost if you approached them directly. I read somewhere it's more than 100 euro?