Flat-bottomed gondolas have been gliding round Venice’s water-ways for centuries. The first written reference dates back to 1094 whilst artists such as Carpaccio, Bellini and Canaletto documented the styles down through the ages. Today the classic black gondola is synonymous with the lagoon city and tourists flock to clamber into the long, wooden craft. So, for this week’s photo challenge to depict something “afloat” I thought I’d take a look at the different forms a gondola can take.
Originally THE way to travel round the city, the gondola was a cross between a limousine and the yellow cabs of New York. Many noble families owned their own and, contrary to today, gondolas could be any colour or as ornate as you wanted. Until the 1500s, that is, when the council decided to curb the excesses caused by competitive aristos trying to out-do eachother! Pimping your ride isn’t a new phenomenon after all, it seems!
Today, most gondolas at work in the city are black with chrome decorations and are made to a rigid template. Around 450 are licensed for the tourist trade with tours costing €80 per half hour for up to 6 people. And although many people will justifiably baulk at the cost, the gondola gives the only authentic view of the city just as she was intended to be seen – from the water.
If you can’t or won’t pay for the tour, however, don’t despair – there is still a way to have a gondola ride. Just hop into one of the half a dozen traghetti, ferry gondolas, that cross the Grand Canal. They allow Venetians and visitors a quick and easy way to cross, and relieve traffic on the 4 bridges that traverse the 4km-long canal. And at just €2 per crossing for tourists they provide a much more affordable gondola experience!
Finally there are the Formula 1 gondolas – the ones used for regatta racing. Sleek as race-horses, what these gondolas lack in chrome decorations they make up for with their rainbow hues. Make sure you keep an eye out for the gondoliers practicing along the Grand Canal or for one of the 20-odd summer time regattas.
So, as you see, the gondola, once the most common water-craft in Venice, still plays a vital part in day-to-day life whether conveying, charming or competing. The gondola has even been exported as far afield as Las Vegas where boats glide gracefully around the imitation Grand Canal. Personally, however, nothing compares to the real thing but unless you have the €25,000 necessary to buy one, you, like me, will have to make do with the traghetto or tourist trip! Do you have a gondola ride on your bucket list? Leave me a comment to tell me what you think and in the meantime don’t forget to tell me what “afloat” says to you?
One of the last squero boatyards can be seen in Dorsoduro on the Rio di San Trovaso, near the Giudecca canal end.
Gondola trips can be taken from any of the gondola stations around the city. All rates are set by the council so should be the same everywhere. The only difference between trips is in the sights you see – setting off from St Mark’s you see that side of the city but the tour won’t include the Rialto Bridge and vice versa. Happy travels!
Accessibility for all – Gondolas4All have recently launched a new service for wheelchair users and members of ONLUS that allows you to enjoy a gondola ride. For more information check out their website here