The art of the gondola maker

The art of the gondola maker, Venice, Italy (Photo by BKP)
, Bacino Orseolo, Venice

How to build a gondola

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.

There are only three squeri (gondola workshops) remaining in Venice (the most famous and oldest: Squero di San Trovaso), but they work predominantly on maintenance and repair. Fewer than a dozen new gondolas are commissioned in any given year.

Building a Gondola

To buiild a new gondola 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.

 
 

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Squero di San Trovaso
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See how a Venetian gondola is made at a gondola workshop

 
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Bacino Orseolo
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The gondola parking lot just off Piazza San Marco

 
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A gondola workshop in Dorsoduro

 

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