Squero di San Trovaso: The gondola boatyard

Squero San Trovaso gondola building workshop
The squero di San Trovaso gondola boatyard. (Photo by Wolfgang Moroder)

See how a Venetian gondola is made at the gondola workshop of Squero San Trovaso in Venice, Italy

Building a gondola in Venice
The gondola builders at the squero of Tramontin work on a new gondola. (Photo courtesy of Squero Dominco Tramontin & Figli)
Glimpses of the real Venice beyond the tourist veneer are easier to find than you'd expect.

This one's just a few hundred yards down a canal from the Accademia: the squero di San Trovaso, a small gondola boatyard that first opened in the 17th century.

Back in the 16th-century heyday of the gondola, there were upwards of 10,000 of these elegant boats plying the waters of Venice’s canals. Today there are but 350, and the job of gondoliere is still a coveted profession, passed down from father to son over the centuries.

Squero Domenico Tramontin & Figli
There is another squero nearby. From the Squero San Trovaso, continue down Fondamenta Meraviglie to the wide Giudecca Canal.

Turn right, over the bridge across Rio San Trovaso, then take your first right. The street will dogleg then cross another canal. Turn left immediately to follow this canal along Fondamenta Bonini.

Cross another side canal as you continue straight until the canal you've been following suddenly turns right to become Rio Sant'Avogaria.

On the bridge that crosses this canal, look to your right and, on the left side of the canal is the Squero Domenico Tramontin & Figli at Dorsoduro 1542 (tel. +39-041-523-7762; www.tramontingondole.it).
There are also precious few squeri (boatyards) left in the city, but the easiest to find—and most photogenic—is next to the Church of San Trovaso along the narrow Rio San Trovaso, just north of the Zattere.

The squero is surrounded by Tyrolian-looking wooden structures (a true rarity in this stone city built on water, and an oddity shared by most squeri) that are home to the multiple-generational owners and original workshops for the traditional boats.

Take a gondola workshop tour

San Trovaso is closed to the public. But there are other gondola workshops that welcome tourists—but only on specially arranged tours:

  • Venice for Children: Belltowers, Gondola Makers & Sailing Ships - A full-day tour that visits the squero di Tramontin (see sidebar) for a seminar on the fine art of gondola making by a member of the Tramontin family—and also takes a vaporetto around Venice to learn more of its seafaring history at the Arsenale and Naval Museum (there's also a climb up the belltower of San Giorgio Maggiore for a birds-eye view of the bacino and Grand Canal).
  • Casanova/Oltrex (tel. +39-041-524-2828, www.oltrex.it) also offers a two-hour tour that visits a working squero (gondola workshop). Their office and meeting point is a cubby-hole office in the base of the Hotel Daniele on Riva degli Schiavoni, just off Piazza San Marco.

How to build a gondola

The Gondola Parking Lot
Where can you see hundreds of gondolas congregating together? The Bacino Orseolo just north of Piazza San Marco (walk to the west end of the piazza and take the last tunnel heading north under the colonnade). Frankly, I'm surprised this spot isn't in most guidebooks. Every evening dozens of gondolas jostle for space in a mini-lagoon-like wide spot in the canal, and gondoliers chat while lounging against the bacino's surrounding railing.

Putting together one of the sleek black boats is a fascinatingly exact science that is still done in the revered traditional manner.

The boats have been painted black since a 16th-century sumptuary law—one of many passed by the local legislators as excess and extravagance spiraled out of control.

Whether regarding boats or baubles, laws were passed to restrict the gaudy outlandishness that, at the time, was commonly used to outdo the Joneses.

Propelled by the strength of a single gondoliere, these boats unique to Venice have no modern equipment and rarely move at any great speed but with unrivaled grace. The right side of the gondola is lower since the gondoliere always stands in the back of the boat on the left.

Although this squero is the city’s oldest and one of only three remaining (the other two are more difficult to find, but for directions to one see the box above to the right), it works predominantly on maintenance and repair.

Occasionally they build a new one, which takes some 40 to 45 working days. The carefully craft the gondola from the seven types of wood—mahogany, cherry, fir, walnut, oak, elm, and lime—necessary to give the shallow and asymmetrical boat its various characteristics.

After they puzzle all the pieces together, the painting, the ferro (the iron symbol of the city affixed to the bow), and the forcole (the squiggly wooden post that serves as an complex oarlock) are commissioned out to various local artisans.

Tips & links

Details

Squero di San Trovaso
Rio San Trovaso 1097, Dorsoduro (southwest of the Accademia Gallery; best seen from the far side of the canal on Fondamenta Meraviglie)
www.squerosantrovaso.com
Vaporetto: Accademia or Zattere

No entry (unless you have a group of 25 and book ahead)

Tours
• Context: Dorsoduro: From Gondolas to Contemporary Art
• Venice for Children: Belltowers, Gondola Makers & Sailing Ships (visits a different squero)

Tours

Take a tour: Book a guided neighborhood tour that includes a stop by the gondola workshop:

How long does the Squero San Trovaso take?

Planning your day: This is pretty much a see-it-and-you're-done stop; expect to spend no more time than it takes you to snap a few photographs. Venice itineraries

No entry (though you can tour another...)

No entry: Well aware they have become a tourist site, they don’t mind if you watch them at work from across the narrow Rio di San Trovaso but don’t try to invite yourself in. (If you happen to have a group of 25 people, you can contact them ahead of time to reserve a 30-minute tour.)

There is a tour that visits a neraby squero—aimed at families with kids, but also the only sure-fire way to get inside a gondola workshop:

Nearby sights, restaurants, and hotels

Sights nearby
★★★ Accademia (museum)
★★ Peggy Guggenheim (museum)
Santa Maria della Salute (church)

Where to eat nearby
Enoteca Cantinone Già Schiavi [snack]
★★ Trattoria Ai Cugnai [meal]

Hotels nearby
RR Galleria [moderate]
RR Accademia [premier]
Locanda Ca' dei Brocchi [cheap]
Palazzo Stern [moderate]
Ca' Pisani [premier]
Ca' Maria Adele [splurge]

»
» More hotels in Dorsoduro from Booking.com

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Details
Squero di San Trovaso
Rio San Trovaso 1097, Dorsoduro (southwest of the Accademia Gallery; best seen from the far side of the canal on Fondamenta Meraviglie)
www.squerosantrovaso.com
Vaporetto: Accademia or Zattere

No entry (unless you have a group of 25 and book ahead)

Tours
• Context: Dorsoduro: From Gondolas to Contemporary Art
• Venice for Children: Belltowers, Gondola Makers & Sailing Ships (visits a different squero)
Nearby
Sights nearby
★★★ Accademia (museum)
★★ Peggy Guggenheim (museum)
Santa Maria della Salute (church)

Where to eat nearby
Enoteca Cantinone Già Schiavi [snack]
★★ Trattoria Ai Cugnai [meal]

Hotels nearby
RR Galleria [moderate]
RR Accademia [premier]
Locanda Ca' dei Brocchi [cheap]
Palazzo Stern [moderate]
Ca' Pisani [premier]
Ca' Maria Adele [splurge]

»
» More hotels in Dorsoduro from Booking.com
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