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The Meaning Behind the Gondola, a Dive into the Captivating History and Cultural Significance



Ancient art of the lagoon: the Venetian Gondola glides through the winding canals.

One cannot think of Venice without the iconic image of this graceful Lady, elegantly dressed in shiny black and embellished with shiny silver accessories.

You can have an immersive experience when you are taken by a gondolier to discover the city. There is no truer Venice than the one you discover while being cradled aboard a Gondola.

Beautiful and luxurious like a patrician alcove, reliable and resistant because it has always been tested for survival in this lagoon.


The etymological origin of the word seems to be traced either in medieval Greek κονδοῦρα, kondura, (transport boat), or from Latin cymbula (boat).

The cimbote were in fact flat-bottomed boats in use already in the sixth century to navigate the islands of the first lagoon settlements.



Everything slows down, every stroke of the oar is the heartbeat that marks the rhythm of the city.

Venetian nights are colored by magic when the moonlight illuminates the water surface and the gondola is the background of love stories.

On a Gondola, love is on stage.

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Exploring the Different types of Venetian Gondola


Gondolino and Gondolone are the types of Gondola adapted to different uses in the lagoon.

The Gondola itself has undergone various changes and adaptations in shape and materials of construction, before developing into the graceful and elegant icon we know today. Its use is tourist and for ceremonies such as weddings or funerals.

For sporting purposes, the Gondolini have developed: purely from rowing race you can see them hurtling with two rowers during the Historical Regatta.

They have slightly reduced dimensions to be faster and more agile and are colored as per tradition: white, canarin yellow, purple, light blue, red, green, orange, pink and maron (brown).

Gondoloni are used for a purpose related to urban mobility. They are more similar to the ancient gondolas, have a more stocky and low structure and are free of the bow iron (rostrum). They are used to ferry from one bank to the other of the Grand Canal up to fourteen people in strategic points of the city such as Ca’ d’Oro and Ca’ Rezzonico.

Gondolini al cordino

Coloured Gondolini at the Historic Regatta

The asymmetric shape, which “curves” to the right,  makes the gondola proceed diagonally. It is stabilized by the weight of the gondolier and the forcola (gondola oarlock) he uses to brake or to accelerate the motion.

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The Secrets Behind the Black Gondolas of Venice: Unraveling the Tradition


Until the early twentieth century the gondola was equipped with félze, a removable canopy that guaranteed coverage during the cold season but also intimacy for aristocratic families that used gondolas as a lounge, as well as an alcove for dating.

In order to restrain the extravagance in the decorations that made the gondola a status symbol, in 1609 the Republic Senate intervened with decrees to set a limit to the eccentricity of fabrics and tinsel. From that moment onward the gondola will wear black, the color that best expresses the elegance of a stately boat.

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To waterproof it, the squerarolo, the master of the axe (maximum figure in the yards where wooden boats were built by hand), paints the gondola with nine coats of black pitch.

Every two years the Gondola must be completely repainted and remains in the Squero (the gondola yard whose name derives from Squara, “square”) about a month. Today the pitch is replaced by varnish for wood. The Gondola receive ten layers of waterproof paint.

A work that has been handed down for centuries only orally requiring an extraordinary skill to be able, for example, to bend the eleven meters long longitudinal boards .

The gondola is in fact about eleven meters long, about a meter and a half wide and can weigh between three hundred and four hundred kilograms. It consists of 280 different pieces, manufactured with 8 different species of wood. To realize a Gondola might take more than one year.

The side planks are bent and curved one by one on Venetian marsh reeds: cold water is applied to one end, while the other one is heated by fire.

Thermal shock, rather than mechanical pressure, determines the plastic deformation of the raw material.

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Adrian Tuchel "Gondola"

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Exploring the Symbolic Meaning of the Gondola Bow


A fundamental role in the balance and of counterweights that make the Gondola a masterpiece not only of art but also of physics, is given by the bow.

The Gondola Bow, fero da prova (iron rostrum), is located in the front of the boat to balance the weight of the Gondoliere. Expression of an ancient and never faded craft vocation, was once actually built in iron and could weigh twenty kilograms! It is now made of stainless steel or aluminum plated and weighs around eight kilograms.

Born to protect the gondola against collisions, it acquired around the middle of the XVIII century the comb shape following the evolution of the gondola. It consists of six prongs (teeth) that, according to a modern interpretation, represent the six districts of Venice with the Giudecca island.

The top, the “Zoia” (the jewel), represents the Ducal Horn (headgear of the Doge), which explains why the bow iron is also called Dolfin.


Gondola Bow belonging to the Dolfin family, exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum, New York

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The single rear tooth and the front one, placed on the same plane, form a sort of cross which seems to be a legacy of the Phoenician protours, around which the “stay” (top) of the mast was fixed.


(Franco Corè)

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Discovering the Unique Characteristics of Venetian Gondolas and Sandolo


Unlike the Gondola, the Sandolo is not asymmetrical and has a flat hull, that allows the rower to stand in the center of the stern.

Used since the XIII century to fish clams and mussels, the “Sandalium” (Latin name that recalls the Roman shoe) is now used for leasure, for carrying light loads and racing.

It is a solid, capacious and manageable boat that is used to give tourists a ‘Venetian’ experience, different from the stereotypical image of the Gondola.

Many other lagoon boats descend from this model. Depending on the purpose it has taken different names: sandolo pupparino, sandolo s’ciopon, sampierota or sandolo sampierotto, mascareta, sandolo buranello, sandolo da barcariol, Saltafossi.

It is possible to see around in the lagoon bigger ones, like the sampierotto sandal with a sail on 1/3 (a lug sail).


Fondo Paolo Monti, BEIC, Civico Archivio Fotografico di Milano


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