What comes to your mind when we first say Venice? One could possibly imagine gliding through the Grand Canal in a Gondola boat with a Gondolier. And why not? Venice has always been about soathing waterways and Gondola rides. A Gondola is a traditional, flat-bottomed Venetian rowing boat suitable for waterways just like in Venice. Having such a romantic relationship with this beautiful city of Italy, Gondolas’ heritage also goes back to the history of transportation in Venice.

But the question is how did this boat first get its distinctive looks?

The origin of the Gondolas is lost in Venice’s history. It was first originated in Venice, Italy that is situated on a series of 6 islands at the edge of the Adriatic Sea. In essence, there are no streets in Venice but just waterways thus making the only official transportation choice be boats. But among all the waterway transportations, Gondola is the most famous. It is sort of an ancient rowboat that evolved over a period of 1000 years getting in different shapes, designs, and colors.

History Of Gondola

Today’s Gondolas are sleek, black, and much graceful. Its unique, asymmetrical design allows just one oarsman to navigate the narrow Venetian waterways using a single oar. But that wasn’t the case earlier. To be precise, Gondola is propelled by a gondolier, who stands at the stern of the boat facing the bow and rows a forward stroke followed by a backward stroke. The origin of the word gondola is however unknown.

The gondola has existed in Venice since the 11th century. In early 1094, a boat named a gondola is mentioned in a letter from a Venetian Republic official. They also appeared in Italian paintings of Carpaccio and Bellini in the 1490s. In the 1500s the Gondolas were fashioned with the ornate ornamentation, popular especially in the Baroque period. Additionally, the designs were also much broader from the stern and increased bottom size improved its position in the water and the gondolier’s steering position. In the 1500s an estimated 10,000 gondolas of all types were in Venice; in 1878 an estimated 4000 and now approximately 400. They transported dignitaries, merchants, and goods through water canals.

In fact, not just long banana-shaped designs, but several types of boats were in trend. From Utilitarian rafts to the Doge’s gilded barge, Venice was full of boats. They were used as basic transportation like a modern-day taxi system. Some private Gondoliers would provide transportation services from one end to another in exchange for money. But soon this fine business gained a bad reputation. Some boatmen started harassing passengers in mid waters which included cursing, gambling and even extorting passengers.

To counter the growing violent acts, Venerian citizens then started purchasing their own Gondolas. A system much similar to renting a private car and a driver. The wealthy class would hire boatsmen with Gondola boats to ferry them from one end to another end. Due to this, these gondola boats soon became a status symbol with custom fittings, colors of choice, and ornamentation. But if we look around today most of these boats are black, why?

In 1562, the Venetian authorities decreed to paint all the boats with black color in order to eradicate the caste division. However, many wealthy citizens chose to pay a fine over painting their boats black. The distinctive look of gondolas altered many times in history. The Gondolas first started constructed in a family backyard known as ‘squero’. These people know the art of selecting and seasoning wood of beech, mahogany, walnut, oak, fir, and lime.

The whole process takes about two months starting from hammering the wooden template, attaching foams and aft sterns, and forming the longitudinal planks and ribs that make the frame. The edges were not straight in order to support the boat to glide through narrow canals. The special technique includes warping the boat with torches made of marsh reeds set ablaze. The final stages were to paint the boat with waterproof varnish, which was a family’s recipe that no outsider was allowed to learn. This varnish provides a waterproof coating to the boat. After all this, the ornamentation takes place with silk curtains, elevated passenger compartments, and specialized designs made out of steel and brass.

History Of Gondola

The initial oarlock was made as a simple wooden fork which later evolved into a precise tool that allowed a gondolier to guide the boat into many positions. Later the left side of the boat was made wider than the right side as a counterbalance to the force created by a single gondolier. This would allow the boatmen to steer from the right side only without lifting the oar out of water. However, these modifications were not enough to compete with the motor boat’s arrival. The steam-powered boats declined the gondola popularity in the city and made them a relic of the past.

Yet many tourists still visit the steady city of Italy to experience the once-popular Gondola rides and visit the backyards where once this heritage was crafted.

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