The Gondola

Another world famous symbol of Venice is the gondola.

Today it is used only by tourists but in the past it was the means of transport for those who lived in the lagoon city (the Venetians today use small motor boats to get around).

There are no documents that state exactly the origin of this word but perhaps it can betraced back to the verb to swing. It could also derive from the Latin cymbula (small boat)or cuncula (shell).

We find it mentioned for the first time in 1094 as a “gondulam” in a document of the then Doge Falier.Typical boat of the Venetian lagoon, it has undergone many changes over the centuries, both in size and in decorations.

The color has always been black, not because of the black plague as many think, but simply because black pitch was used to make it waterproof. The wealthiest noble families owned their own ‘gondola de casàda’ (family gondola) and had their own private gondolier. They show off their wealth by embellishing their boats with precious fabrics and very refined decorations, especially gold. 

They are almost 11 meters long. They all have comb or bow iron whose symbolism is: the doge’s hat, the six districts of the city, the Giudecca island, the Rialto bridge, the San Marco basin, the inverted S shape of the Grand Canal and the three islands Murano, Burano and Torcello.

In the past, gondolas had a cover in the central part called “felze” which allowed passengers to shelter from the cold and rain. Today the gondolas are devoid of the “felze” to allow tourists to be fascinated by the total beauty of Venice along the canals.

The “modern” gondolas are more or less the same size as the original ones.

They are also used for special occasions: the various regattas (for example, the Historical Regatta) and weddings where the boats are decorated with usually white flowers and the gondoliers wear the formal uniform

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