The gondola is the Venetian boat par excellence. Famous all over the world for the elegance with which it glides along the canals, this wooden boat driven by a single oar has been around since the time of the Serenissima. 11 meters long, 1.40 wide and composed of 280 parts, the gondola has undergone numerous transformations over the centuries. In the past it was surmounted by a cabin called felze, which gave passengers privacy and shelter from bad weather. The gondola, as well as its iron bow, had a different shape in the past. What we see today is therefore the result of centuries of improvement by numerous specialized craftsmen, who have worked to create the “gondola system” for generations.
The art of making gondolas
The wooden structure of the gondola is built in the squèri, – small boatyards on the canals – by the squerarióli, expert craftsmen who shape the structure of the gondola by combining handicraft and skillful use of the fire.
Then, in their workshops the remèri sculpt custom-made wooden oars and oarlocks – called forcole – based on the weight and height of the gondolier, while the fravi forge the steel parts of the boat, especially the famous fèro da próva – the iron bow – whose shape has been object of numerous symbolic interpretations over the years.
The cushions of the gondolas are sewed by tapessièri, while for the ornaments and decorations different masters get to work: the fondidóri work the metal for the creation of horses and other ornaments, the intagiadóri carve the wood of the sculpted superstructures, while the battiloro and indoradóri transform gold into very thin leaves then applied as ornaments.
Finally, it must not be forgotten that even the uniform of the gondolier requires specific mastery: the sartóri sew gondoliers’ clothing, the baretèri make summer and winter hats for them, while caleghèri take care of their shoes.
If you are curious to learn more about these ancient crafts, the association “El Felze”, gathering the artisans who contribute to the creation of the gondola, and all the Venetian licensed guides (AGT Venezia – Tourist Guide Association of Venice: firstname.lastname@example.org; Coordination of tourist guides of Venice: email@example.com; Cooperative licensed tourist guides of Venice: firstname.lastname@example.org) propose different itineraries to discover traditional shops.