Gondola history as a unique, inimitable and fascinating boat dating back to 1094. Only in the ‘800, the gondola acquires the current shape for a greater manoeuvrability and visibility to the gondolier. Until the last years of 800, the hull was not painted but pitched with calafati (ancient art to clean and stagnate ships). Later on, oils and paints were skillfully used.
The gondola is built at the Squero (shipyard for the building of crafts) whose name comes from a working tool, the “squadra” (team). The Squero, has an ancient Venetian tradition; in fact, it was used for the construction and repair of any vessel from the smallest to the largest. In the past, squero had a leading role but it was limited by the construction of the Arsenal. Over the years, they have undergone a remarkable transformation due to the decrease in rowboats.
Gondola history and the secret of Squero
The Squero is formed by a tilted square towards the Channel or Rio for the access of boats with behind a wooden building called tesa (cover) that provides protection against bad weather as well as for the storage of working tools.
In our days, only a few squeri have been used solely for construction of the gondola and rowing boats. Today, very few gondolas are manufactured and often built not with the traditional system but by using a shaped mould. Being the only asymmetrical boat in the world, its construction creates substantial difficulties that can be overcome only by knowing this ancient art.
The bow of the gondola is characteristic by the “fèro” (iron) at six teeth (in front), whose “S” shape should simulate the evolution of the Grand Canal and the lunette placed under a stylized duke horn (headgear worn by the Doges) – while, the six front teeth, represent the six sestieri (districts) of Venice, the seventh said “risso” (curly) placed at the stern represents the island of Giudecca.
Before the gondola was destined to an exclusive tourist use, a special cover called “felze” equipped with a door, sliding windows, curtains, mirrors and a warmer was placed at the centre for the protection of passengers against cold and prying eyes. Today it is no longer used.
Since the mid-fourteenth century, the Venetian government began penalizing the “squeraroli” (artisans) in favour of the State workers of the Arsenale controlled by the Serenissima Republic in order to gain total control over the vessel production.
The squeraroli (artisans), have a secular tradition handed down from father to son or from master to apprentice and construct the gondola without the help of particular projects – employing several months and dedicating approximately five hundred hours work.
The gondola has a length of 10.85 meters and a varying width from 1.38 to 1.42 meters with a weight of about 350 kilogrammes and consists of 280 wooden pieces. There are several manufacturing stages and the materials used are of the best quality.