Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gondolas and Gondoliers

A Gondolier waiting for a hire - Venice, Italy
A Gondolier waiting for a hire - Venice, Italy 

No trip to Venice is complete without a Gondola ride. The traditional flat bottomed rowing boat has been used on the Venetian lagoon for centuries. Although they were once the main mode of transport along the canals, they are now used for tourist rides. The earliest references to the Gondola were made in 1094 when a venetian public official referred to it in a letter. They started appearing in Italian paintings in the 1490's in works by Carpaccio and Bellini. The boat has evolved over the last 1000 years into the sleek familiar shape that it is today.

More info after the jump.

A Gondola parked along a canal - Venice, Italy
A Gondola parked along a canal - Venice, Italy

Gondolas were fitted with a small cabin, named the felce, until the early 20th century. Its windows could be closed with louvered shutters, the original venetian blinds. Gondolas were originally symmetric in design but at the end of the 1800's an asymmetric design which allowed a single oarsman was adopted. The boats are made out of 8 different types of wood and consist of 280 pieces.

At the peak of its popularity in the 17th and 18th century there were between eight and ten thousand Gondolas navigating the canals of Venice.

Tourists on one of the Venetian Canals - Venice, Italy
Tourists on one of the Venetian Canals - Venice, Italy

Contrary to popular belief the Gondola is not poled like a punt. Instead, the Oarsman propels the boat with a forward stroke and a compensating backward stroke. The oar, which is made out of beech wood, and is held in place by an oarlock known as a forcola. The forcola is a complicated shape as it has to allow for different speeds and directions of strokes. The ornament at the front of the Gondola is referred to as the ferro and is serves as a counter weight for the Oarsman. The ferro is generally made out of iron, brass, stainless steel or aluminium.

A Gondoliers hat - Venice, Italy
A Gondoliers hat - Venice, Italy

The profession of "Gondolier" is controlled by a guild which issues a limited number of licenses. In order to obtain a license, the Gondolier must complete training and an apprenticeship as well as pass a comprehensive exam. During this exam the applicants  knowledge of Venetian history, landmarks and foreign languages and practical skills in handling a Gondola are tested.

A Gondola navigating a canal - Venice, Italy
A Gondola navigating a canal - Venice, Italy

Gondola rides are available on almost every canal in Venice. We decided to take a ride along a few of the smaller canals as we wanted to avoid the Grand Canal which is constantly busy. The trip lasted around 40 minutes and we passed a number of famous landmarks on the way. These included Vivaldi's Palazzo as well as the Palazzo belonging to Marco Polo's family.

A Gondoliers hat - Venice, Italy
A Gondoliers hat - Venice, Italy

All images on this post were captured with the Canon 7D and the 24-105mm combo.

A Gondola navigates a Canal - Venice, Italy
A Gondola navigates a Canal - Venice, Italy

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