Gondole, gondoliere, traghetti, Venice
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.
This is what I I had been waiting for! Carol and I had purposefully kept our vacation schedule loose. Aside from hotel reservations we really didn't have to be anywhere at any given time...that is, except for 10:30 AM Tuesday morning in Venice.
I love trip planning and research...what can I say, I've been called the Gray Geek more than once. In the lead up to our trip to Italy I came across a fantastic site (other than VT's of course) called the Venice Blog. Wonderful insights not easily found. It was here I discovered the American Gondola Builder in Venice. In 1996 Thom Price received a Watson Foundation grant to go to Venice and learn how to build gondolas. At the end of his grant he decided to stay in Venice and the rest, as they say, is history.
Turns out that it's not very easy to actually watch a gondola being built as the local boat builders are not quite as welcoming as the local glass blowers. Thom Price on the other hand was willing to open his squero or boat building workshop for occasional tours. Now, I have been a woodworker all my life building furniture, musical instruments and even a spiral staircase, but this was something else. The opportunity to see a gondola in its skeletal form, to observe firsthand techniques developed over centuries by master boat builders and to meet a young man who followed his dream as unlikely as it may have seemed...this was not be missed.
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);
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.
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
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!)
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.
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
Local legend says that Gondoliers are born with webbed feet which helps them walk on water. Of course, this is part of the mythology of Gondoliers; however, they do have intimate knowledge of the waterway's of Venice which is passed down from father to son.
As in the picture, the traditional dress of the Gondolier is the beribboned straw hat, the striped shirt, and the black trousers.
The Gondolier stands upright and pushes on his oar to row the gondola in the direction that he faces. His passengers sit on beautifully upholstered cushions and on low stools. His gondola is always black in color; (seven layers of black lacquer to give the glossy look); the ferror has metal teeth which symbolizes the six sestieri of Venice as are under the part that is in the shape of the Doge's cap.
The Gondola takes three months to build and costs 10,000 Euro or more. The woods that are used are walnut, oak, mahogany, lime, larch, fir, elm, cherry, and beech. These woods are then handcrafted into more than 280 separate pieces of wood!
So, when we gripe about the price of a ride on the gondola, it is good to know how expensive the boat and how expensive the upkeep of this beautiful, craft which is one of the oldest symbols of Venice.
When I saw this Gondolier, I tried waiting until he turned around, but finally gave up and took the picture from the back...I think I like it best this way..more natural.
Most gondolas have a black colour and are ornated with the so-called ferro in the front of the boat. This ferro is a contra weight for the gondolier, standing at the backside.
The metallic teeth symbolize the six sestieri of Venice. At special occasions the gondola is decorated with flowers. It was such a nice coincidence to see this bridal couple, using the traditional gondola as mean of transport at their wedding day.
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."
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.
There are few surving gondola workshops in Venice. The Squero di San Trovaso is one of them. It is not open to the public, but we passed it numerous times and saw gondolas being worked on outside all the time across the canal.
There are two types of gondolieri, one who is also the owner of a boat and the other who is employee. Gondoliere who is the owner of the boat is much nicer and more correct to customers and with such is easier to arrange ride at slightly lower price. Gondoliers-emplyoees, who do work for a landlord tend to be rough, rude and like to cheat a customer. All that I learned from an old gondoliere who complained that today's gondoliers are far away from those former. The old school gondoliers treated customers with care and respect, which is missing today. I remember from long time ago that gondolieri used to sing while driving, especially if the customers were young couples. Once the gondolieri were smiling and cheerful, very prone to joking, and these today are forever crusty.
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.