One of the most popular destinations in Europe, Venice draws in tourists with its otherworldly charm. Built on a series of canals, Venice is home to the traditional gondolas that still make the city a magical place for travelers.
Although Venetian gondolas can be expensive, riding one is a rite of passage for every traveler to Venice. It’s a great way to see the picturesque city and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The number of gondolas in Venice has seriously dwindled over the years, but we can’t see this tradition ending any time soon.
Check out these 10 interesting facts about the gondolas of Venice.
10 Gondolas Are Different From Other Venetian Boats
Gondolas originate from Venice and were designed with Venetian canals in mind. Taking a gondola ride is a classic thing that every tourist to Venice must do! With the close association between Venice and gondolas, it’s easy to think that gondolas are the only boats that exist in Venice. But they’re not. Being a city of canals, Venice is frequented by many different types of vessels.
There are a few differences between gondolas and other Venetian boats, though. The gondola has a unique shape and this keeps 60 percent of the boat submerged. Also, the gondola has two unique ornaments known as the fero da prova and the rico.
9 They Aren’t Cheap To Make
If you’ve ever been to Venice, you’ll know that gondolas aren’t cheap to ride. That makes sense because they aren’t cheap to build either! Although they look relatively small and simple compared to other boats, a lot of detail has to go in that makes them quite expensive to build.
According to Venezia Autentica, it costs around 40,000 euros to complete a gondola. They’re built in traditional dockyards in Venice and are produced using 280 pieces of timber sourced from eight different kinds of wood.
8 They Were Specifically Designed For The Venetian Canals
The gondola originates from Venice and was specifically designed with the Venetian canals in mind. The design and dimensions of the boats make them ideal for navigating through the pretty city canals, which can sometimes be exceptionally narrow.
Gondolas were first embraced in Venice when horses were banned from the city back in the 14th century. Unlike other boats, they don’t have a keel or rudder to accommodate the shifting sand bars of Venice. They are still steered by a gondolier who stands at the stern to see.
7 Gondolas Were Once Status Symbols
Today, you don’t have to be anybody special to ride a gondola. But in the early days, they were used by the nobility to travel around Venice. Soon enough, they became status symbols for powerful families in the city. Competing with each other, the nobility began decorating their gondolas with elaborate designs.
In the year 1600, it is thought that there were more than 10,000 gondolas operating in Venice. Today, there are only 400, and they are almost exclusively used by tourists only. Venetians mainly move by foot or waterbus.
6 The Government Decreed That They Would Be All Black
Today, the gondolas you see in Venice are all black. It wasn’t always like this—back when the nobility was using them as status symbols, they were elaborately decorated and came in many different colors. However, in the 16thcentury, the Venetian Doge decreed that all gondolas were to be painted black.
This was because the colors and styles of the gondolas were becoming a competition for the nobles. Now, gondolas are simple. As Italian Notes explains, they have only a multi-pronged prow, a curly tail, and a pair of seahorses as decoration.
5 Tourists Influenced The Design Of The Modern Gondola
Traditionally, gondolas contained a removable cabin where the passengers would sit. This allowed noble passengers to be kept warm while traveling in winter and cool while traveling in summer. But it had another purpose—it allowed the nobility to travel in private, without the eyes of the city watching them.
When tourists started using the gondolas, they had no need for these cabins. After all, the purpose of going on a gondola ride in Venice is to see all the beautiful sights of the city. So the cabins were officially abandoned to cater to the tourists who started arriving in the 20th century.
4 Venice Isn’t The Only Place You’ll Find Them
Everyone knows that gondolas originate from Venice and are unique to Venice. Or are they? There is one other place you’ll find running gondolas on the planet, and that’s in Las Vegas. The US city doesn’t have streets made of canals the way Venice does, but it is home to the extravagant Venetian hotel, which is a smaller replica of the city in many ways.
The gondola ride that you take in the Venetian will be quite different from the authentic ride you’ll have in Venice. But if you can’t get to Venice, it’s still a gondola ride!
3 It’s Nearly Impossible To Become A Gondolier
Becoming a gondolier seems like a dream job. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to become a gondolier. First, you have to pass a preliminary examination. Then you must take classes in Venetian rowing, Venetian history, and languages. Then you must row a gondola during a busy working day. If you succeed, you become a substitute and will be allowed to row gondolas for established gondoliers, who will get half of your pay.
To become a gondolier, a substitute must buy a license from an established gondolier for hundreds of thousands of euros, or wait for the city to hand out some more licenses, which hardly ever happens.
2 Some Gondolas Are Built For Racing
When we think of gondolas, we think of leisurely rides through the canals of Venice. Racing doesn’t really come to mind, so it might come as a shock that there is such a thing as a sports gondola. These are used for competitions and races.
These are different from standard gondolas in that everything that is not required for racing is removed from them. That means that they have no benches, seats, or floor the way regular gondolas do. The biggest annual boating event in Venice is the Historical Regatta, where the gondolas race.
1 The Magic Of The Gondola Is About More Than Just The Boat
Riding a gondola through Venice is one of the most magical things a person can do. Even if it’s rainy and the Grand Canal is full of traffic, there is something so otherworldly about seeing the city in this traditional way. But the magic comes from more than just the boat. When you pay steep prices for a gondola ride, you’re also paying for the gondolier to bring you conversation or commentary.
If you’d like to ride a gondola, it’s a good idea to talk to a few gondoliers and see whose personality you’re attracted to the most. It can really ruin the magic when the gondolier doesn’t speak the language or doesn’t offer you any narration.