The gondola is a traditional wooden boat that is used to ferry tourists, expats and locals around the canals and lagoons of the magical city of Venice in Northern Italy. As one of the most iconic symbols of Venice, these flat-bottomed boats are elegant, romantic and beautiful to behold as they pass one another on the waterways of the ancient floating city.
Gondolas have been the primary method of transportation within Venice for centuries and are propelled by the gondolier by using the rudder of the boat in a sculling manner. The rudder is not attached to the hull of the boat and gives the gondolier perfect control over the direction of travel and the speed at which the boat glides through the water.
A Brief History Of The Venetian Gondola.
The Venetian gondola has a fascinating history that few tourists, and even many locals, are not fully aware of. These beautiful canal boats have been one of the primary forms of transport in Venice since the late 11th Century. In the early days, gondolas were rough and ready, homemade vessels but over the centuries their design was refined and the local government even passed legislation to homogenize their black hulls and the uniforms of the gondoliers!
The popularity of gondolas grow rapidly from their inception and by the 17th Century, there were almost 10,000 gondoliers working on the canals of Venice. However, today there are less than 500 gondolas in active service as the city has introduced other forms of public transport such as larger ferries and motorized boats. Consequently, the majority of gondolas in modern-day Venice are hired by tourists or rented by locals for special occasions such as weddings.
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Even in their heyday, Gondolas were never the only form of transport on the Venetian canals. In the 16th Century, a map of the city that was created by Jacopo de Barberi showed that the majority of vessels on the water were galleys, Batela row boats and other types of small rowing boats. Nonetheless, gondolas became the most iconic type of boat in Venice and still hold a special place in the heart of tourists and locals alike.
The modern gondola design was invented by the famous boat builder Tramontin in the 19th Century. He improved the gondola’s streamlined hull and made them more efficient and easier to steer. This transformed the gondola forever and the heirs of Tramontin still work in his original boatyard! By the 20th Century, the gondola as we know it today was in wide use and the Venetian authorities prohibited further modifications of its design to preserve this beloved symbol of the city.
The Gondoliers Of Venice And Their Uniforms.
Gondolas are traditionally painted black. This was made mandatory to ensure the uniformity of these symbols of the city but also to give them a stylish and elegant image in the water. However, it’s not just the gondolas that have to look alike because the gondoliers are also required to comply with a strict code of dress.
Following the passing of the Sumptuary Law in 1633, gondoliers had to wear black clothing to match their black gondolas. This practice was maintained for several centuries until after World War II when gondoliers began to wear the red or blue striped shirts that we recognize today. Gondoliers must also wear black trousers and a wide-brimmed straw hat with a red or blue band.
Can Anyone Be A Gondolier?
Not everyone in Venice can be a gondolier; in fact, it’s a rare privilege that is passed down through a family from father to son. To be a gondolier in Venice you need to have a license and be a member of the 1000-year-old Gondolier’s Guild. The license is passed down from father to son or, if the father has no son then another male member of the family can take up the license.
As well as receiving the license from another family member, a gondolier needs to complete 400 hours of training over 6 months. They must then complete an apprenticeship and pass rigorous exams that test the gondolier’s knowledge of the history of Venetian landmarks, several foreign languages and the practical boating skills required to safely navigate the canals.
The exams for gondoliers are very difficult to pass and consequently, only 3 or 4 new licenses are granted each year! The Gondolier’s Guild is a very tight-knit community and has even developed its own unique dialect that is a strange combination of Italian, Arabic and Spanish!
All gondoliers have traditionally been male however in 2010 the first female gondolier, Giorgia Boscolo, was licensed by the guild. This was quite amazing because for more than 9 centuries only men were allowed to be gondoliers; however, it does go to show that even the ancient Gondolier’s Guild is moving with the times!
What’s The Best Gondola Ride In Venice?
As a visitor to Venice, you simply can’t miss out on taking a ride in a gondola! There’s nothing quite like cruising along the Grand Canal in a gondola; and whether or not have a commentary, it’s a truly magical moment to reflect on the spectacular beauty of Venice.
The best gondola rides will usually incorporate the main Grand Canal as well as the narrower side canals that crisscross the city. This will give you a first-hand understanding of the way that the canals are interlinked and you’ll get to see some of the back streets as well as the major tourist hotspots.
One of the best gondola rides in Venice is the classic tour which includes a serenade! During the tour, you’ll relax in a 6-seater gondola and travel as part of a small flotilla of gondolas while a professional singer serenades the group.
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As you are guided through Venice by a gondolier in traditional uniform, you’ll explore the Grand Canal as well as many of the smaller canals while passing Venice’s top sites along the way. You can choose between an afternoon or evening ride so you can conveniently fit the gondola ride into your schedule.
The gondola ride departs from the Piazza Santa Maria del Giglio and takes around 30-40 minutes, dropping you back of at the same pier as you departed from.
Should You Have A Serenade And Commentary Or Not?
It’s completely up to you whether you or not you want a serenade, a commentary or neither. If you want a timelessly romantic gondola ride then you should definitely have a serenade but if you’re more interested in learning about the heritage of Venice you should book a tour with a commentary.
Gondoliers have to pass tough exams about the history of Venice and its major landmarks so taking a tour with a commentary is a great way to learn about the city from the comfort of the gondola.
Are Gondolas Safe?
Gondolas are extremely stable, flat-bottomed boats so the chances of them capsizing or sinking are vanishingly slim! On top of this, the gondoliers are highly trained experts who know the canals and their boats like the back of their hands.
There are no life jackets on gondolas but you’re very unlikely to fall out by accident. Even if you were to somehow fall into the water the gondolier would jump straight in to fish you out!
In short, gondolas are very safe and you shouldn’t have any worries about taking a ride on the canals of Venice.
The Best Gondola Rides In Venice.
There’s a wide variety of gondola rides and tours available in Venice but there are a few that stand out from the competition. When in doubt, you should book a ride that takes you both through the narrow canals of Venice and the Grand Canal.
2 Hour Morning Walking Tour And Gondola Ride.
If you want to combine a guided morning tour of the top attractions in Venice with a lovely gondola ride on the Grand Canal then look no further! This 2-hour walking tour with a knowledgeable guide will take you through Saint Mark’s Square, the Basilica di Santa Maria and the Teatro La Fenice, among other great sites.
Following your guided tour you’ll have a ride through the canals of Venice with your guide before being dropped off near the Correr Museum.
A Private Gondola Ride – Off The Beaten Track.
For a truly unique tour of the hidden treasures of Venice, away from the main tourist hotspots, this private gondola ride is the ideal way to create some magnificent memories of your time in the city. Your gondolier will give you a commentary on the historical sites that most tourists never see as you drift through the smaller canals in Venice.
It’s worth reserving your place on this popular private tour in advance to avoid disappointment on the day.
Take A Romantic Gondola Ride And Have A Traditional Dinner In Venice.
If you want to enjoy a beautifully romantic evening in Venice with your partner then this gondola ride followed by a traditional dinner in a local restaurant is the perfect way to celebrate your love!
Your gondolier will guide you and your partner through the winding canals past landmarks such as the Accademia Bridge and the Barbarigo Palace before dropping you off for a 2-course dinner with side dishes in a gorgeous Venetian restaurant.
Do You Need To Pre-Book Your Gondola Ride In Venice?
It’s always better to pre-book your gondola ride as far in advance as you can, particularly during the busy summer months. Gondola rides are hugely popular and consequently, a lot of the best tours and rides sell out fast!
Gondolas Are The Symbol Of The Floating City.
Venice, often nicknamed the ‘floating city’, is famous for its architecture, glamor and gondolas. This means that no visit to the city would be complete without taking at least one or two gondola rides! You can take a gondola ride with a historical commentary, a serenade, or simply relax with your partner, sip some champagne and take in the timeless romance of the moment together.