Gondolas were once the main form of public transport in Venice. Indeed, during the 1600-1700s, there were many thousands of gondolas in existence. There were also several other forms of vessels in use at this time, most of which have all but disappeared from the Venetian waterways.
With only 400 gondolas left in Venice today, and 425 official gondolier licenses up for grabs, becoming a gondolier is a highly prestigious – not to mention expensive – process. There are many exams covering not only the technicalities of rowing the gondola, but also history exams and language skills.
The form of the gondola changed gradually over time, until rules came into force banning additional changes to the design.
Comprised of some 280 parts, eight varieties of wood go into the construction of the gondola. Gondolas could have been painted in any colour until an ordinance requiring all gondolas to be painted black came into force legally and then traditionally.
Gondoliers stand on the back of the gondola and use a made-to-measure oar - called a rèmo - to row along the water. The rèmo is cupped in a fórcola that allows the gondolier to manoeuvre the oar.
The flat base of the gondola was designed to allow the vessel to navigate the waters of the Venetian lagoon.
The gondola is balanced off-centre to compensate for the weight of the gondolier and the effect of rowing on one side with a single oar. The férro – a metal decoration on the front of the gondola – serves as a counterbalance.
Gondolas originally had a small cabin to protect passengers from the weather. Venetian blinds take their name from the form of shutters that once provided passengers privacy there within.