Gondolas and gondoliers

Gondolas and gondoliers (1B)

If there is a vessel that defines the Venice landscape, it is without doubt the gondola. With its black hull and slender profile, and piloted by an oarsman who we all imagine dressed up in a straw hat and hooped shirt, the gondolas are no longer the practical multi-use vehicle of yesteryear, but are now almost exclusively used for providing a different view of the city for tourists.

Although to start with it might seem like a hackneyed cliché for less demanding travellers, travelling the canals by gondola is one of the most recommendable experiences that Venice can offer, since the taxi-boats, the other option for discovering these aquatic alleyways, are just as expensive and much less charming.

It is thought that these boats were first used in the 11th century, and are a clear example of how man adapts to the environment: 11 metres long and 1.5 metres wide, these light boats are the best option for touring the narrowest and more shallow canals without difficulty.

The structure, made up of almost 300 pieces of different woods, is unusual in that it is asymmetrical, with a slight curve towards the left in the bow, which enables the gondolier to be able to steer the vessel with just one rear oar. If the gondola did not have this curve it would just go round in circles. The rowing technique used, Venetian style, is curious, since the gondolier, situated in the stern, acquires a straight position towards the bow and rows from forwards to back.

The current appearance, of simple black lacquered oak wood, which characterises the vast majority of the 400 gondolas that navigate around the city today, is due to an edict of 1562 that prohibited, in  order to cut excessive costs, the until then lavish ornamentations of these boats. Today it could be said that, except on special occasions, in which the felze is placed, the boat’s cabin, the decoration is limited to the ferro, the iron halberd that heads the bow, and the golden sea horses that decorate the two sides.

The trips, that last approximately 45 minutes, can be expensive if you do not negotiate the price beforehand.  It is also a good idea to try and haggle over the price. Taking into account that the gondolas can take up to 6 passengers, if the price appears too high you can always opt for sharing the trip with other travellers.

Even though it is expensive, on many occasions it is the best way of discovering the façades of numerous picturesque and important buildings, such as the house where Casanova lived as well as that of Marco Polo himself. Moreover, as in any romantic city, it is the only way of passing beneath the Ponte dei Sospiri to kiss your partner and ensure that love will never die.

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