How gondolas are born: a journey to discover traditional Venetian craftsmanship

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: agtvenezia@gmail.com; Coordination of tourist guides of Venice: guide.turistiche.venezia@gmail.com; Cooperative licensed tourist guides of Venice: guide@guidevenezia.it) propose different itineraries to discover traditional shops.

The Madonna di Marina Festival in the ancient village of Malamocco from 7th to 14th July 2019

Malamocco, at the southern end of the Lido island, was the first ancient nucleus of Venice, capital of the Venetian Dogado between 742 and 811, until it was decided to move its headquarters in Rialto. In the rooms of the first residence of the Podestà or Magistrate, today there is a permanent exhibition of archaeological finds discovered in the local area. The museum is open from Friday to Sunday, to book a visit – that also includes a tour of the ancient village – please contact (0039) 347 4144035.

Having a walk around is like taking a dip in the past: calli, campi and small squares have remained those of the past, as have the festivals and popular traditions, still very appreciated by the locals.

The Feast of Madonna di Marina is a typical local festival celebrated every year in July, this year from 7 to 14 July. Its origins date back to the 14th century, when according to the legend the Virgin Mary appeared to a inhabitant of Malamocco who was collecting wood along the beach.

The celebrations last almost a week, during which, besides the events tied to the religious tradition, there are also concerts, dances, markets and handicraft exhibitions; the celebrations are concluded by the fireworks display and the final tombola (bingo).

From the Lido, you can reach Malamocco by bus (line A), by car (via the Actv ferry boat line 17 Tronchetto-Lido, San Nicolò-Punta Sabbioni) or by bicycle (you can rent one at the Lido or carry your own bike by the Actv ferry boat).

From Chioggia, you can get to Malamocco by the Actv waterbus line 11.

Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics and Ascension Day 31st May – 2nd June

For more than a thousand years, Venice has been celebrating the Fèsta de la Sènsa (which means “Ascension Day” in Venetian dialect), one of the oldest historical re-enactments, which relives the intimate relationship between the city and the Sea and the practice of the Venetian rowing. On the day of the Sensa, Sunday 2nd June, the Marriage of the sea is celebrated, in memory of the conquest of the Dalmatia by the Venetian ships headed by the doge Pietro Orseolo II in 999. Every year the Doge, on the state boat called the Bucintoro, blessed the sea by throwing a gold ring into the water.


This year the Fèsta de la Sènsa will be even more special because on the same days there will also be the 64th edition of the Ancient Maritime Republics Regatta, established in 1955 with the aim of recalling the exploits and rivalries of the most famous Italian Maritime Republics, namely Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice. The regatta consists of a two kilometers long route competition between boats in which four rowing teams, representing each one of the Republics, challenge each other. The program includes three days of celebrations, which will culminate, on Saturday 1st June, with the ceremony of the Adriatic Twinning of the Fèsta de la Sènsa with the cities of the Maritime Republics and the Galleons Regatta and, on Sunday 2nd June, with the Sensa’s water parade and the ceremony of Marriage of Venice with the sea.


On Sunday 2nd June, if you are in St Mark’s square, don’t miss a unique show and look up at the Clock Tower: only twice a year, on the day of the Sensa and of the Epiphany, at the stroke of every hour the wooden figures of an Angel with a trumpet and of the three Wise Men come out of the lodge of the second floor and parade in procession in front of the statue of the Madonna.


Did you know? La Fenice Opera House was inaugureted on Ascension day, on 16th of May 1792. In the nineteenth century, the theatre staged the world premieres of numerous operas of Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi. If you are visiting Venice, La Fenice Opera House is definitely a must see for making your stay in Venice unique!

 

THE DEATH OF JAMES LEE BYARS – VANHAERENTS COLLECTION

Vanhaerents Art Collection presents “The Death of James Lee Byars: Zad Moultaka in Dialogue”, an official collateral event of the 58. Venice Biennale, at our Cultural Center Don Orione Artigianelli Church of Santa Maria della Visitazione.

It is the second major exhibition from the Vanhaerents Art Collection outside Belgium and takes its title from a key work in the collection: The Death of James Lee Byars.

“I hope that people will experience my way of practicing my own death as something useful for themselves.”
– James Lee Byars

Sant’Erasmo: Venice vegetable garden – Purple Artichoke Festival May 12th 2019

Sant’Erasmo is an island in the Venice lagoon, half an hour by vaporetto from the Fondamente Nove (Line 13). To explore it we recommend you a walk through its characteristic vegetable fields, vineyards and orchards, surrounded by the breathtaking lagoon scenery.

 

Sant’Erasmo purple artichoke

From the sixteenth century, the island is known as the “Venice vegetable garden“, due to its large concentration of vegetable gardens and cultivated fields, which for generations have provided fruit and vegetables to the historic center. Among the many local crops, artichokes undoubtedly stand out above all. The variety grown on the lagoon took its name from this island, Sant’Erasmo purple artichoke. The right season to taste this tender, fleshy and elongated vegetable, is from the end of April, when the first small apical artichoke buds, called castraùre, are ready to be picked off. Harvest continues until the end of June.

 

A typical product of the Lagoon area

Today there are very few artichoke growers in the lagoon and they suffer more and more the competition of the products coming from other parts of Italy, passed off as Sant’Erasmo artichokes and sold at lower prices. For this a Consortium has been established, followed by the institution of a Slow Food Presidium, which have brought together the growers of the lagoon islands in order to distinguish and add value to the authentic local artichoke grown in Venice.

 

Sant’Erasmo Purple Artichoke Festival 

The best way to discover this tasty typical product of the lagoon is taking part to the Sant’Erasmo Purple Artichoke Festival, an annual enogastronomical kermesse held on May 12th on the island of Sant’Erasmo. For the occasion, at the Torre Massimiliana, tastings will be organized and you will have the possibility to buy local products directly from producers.