Focus on…Gondolas


Focus on…Gondolas:
We look at the famous boat whose name is inextricably linked with canals of Venice.

We look at the famous boat whose name is inextricably linked with canals of Venice

Mention Venice and a number of things come to mind – St Mark’s Square, Grand Canale and, of course, gondolas. There are many kinds of wooden-hulled boats, but the canals of Venice would seem incomplete without the presence the gondola. The origin of the name is unclear, but in the 1500s there were apparently only a handful in existence. This is because of the many other watercrafts, but swelled to between 8000 and 10,000 as Venice became a popular destination. Now numbers are down to the low hundreds and are now under the protection of the Institution for the Protection and Conservation of Gondolas and Gondoliers. Gondoliers are given extensive training and pass rigorous exams of their knowledge of Venice and its waterways. 

Shaping the fórcola

A gondola has certain key designs and construction features, which all have a symbolism. The shaped metal prow is called the ‘ferro’ and acts as a counterweight for the gondolier at the rear of the vessel. The oar or ‘rémo’ sits in a sculptural feature called the ‘fórcola’ that allows the oar to rotate freely. The boat hull is made from eight different timbers: fir (Abies spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), cherry (Prunus avium), walnut (Juglans spp.), elm (Ulmas procera), mahogany (Khaya spp.), larch (Larix decidua) and lime (Tilia vulgaris). 

Construction of a typical highly embellished shiny black gondola will take a year and be very costly to build. For the latter reason there are very few in private ownership, which tend to be used for weddings and other events. Early Venice itself was built on a lagoon, the water allowing free and easy movement of commercial traffic and silk, grain and spice. The buildings are largely piled on alder (Alnus spp.) known for its resistance to decay.

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