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  • If I say, "Venice", do you imagine yourself gliding down the Grand Canal, serenaded by a gondolier?

  • There's no doubt that the gondola is a symbol of Venice, Italy, but how did this curious banana-shaped black boat get its distinctive look?

  • The origins of the Venetian gondola are lost to history, but by the 1500s, some 10,000 gondolas transported dignitaries, merchants, and goods through the city's canals.

  • In fact, Venice teemed with many types of handmade boats, from utilitarian rafts to the Doge's own ostentatious gilded barge.

  • Like a modern day taxi system, gondolas were leased to boatmen who made the rounds of the city's ferry stations.

  • Passengers paid a fare to be carried from one side of the Grand Canal to the other, as well as to other points around the city.

  • But gondoliers soon developed a bad rap.

  • Historical documents describe numerous infractions involving boatmen, including cursing, gambling, extorting passengers, even occasional acts of violence.

  • To minimize the unpredictability of canal travel, Venetian citizens who could afford it, purchased their own gondolas, just as a celebrity might use a private car and driver today.

  • These wealthy Venetians hired two private gondoliers to ferry them around the city and maintain their boats.

  • The gondolas soon became a status symbol, much like an expensive car, with custom fittings, carved and gilded ornamentation, and seasonal fabrics, like silk and velvet.

  • However, the majority of gondolas seen today are black, because in 1562, Venetian authorities decreed that all but ceremonial gondolas be painted black in order to avoid sinfully extravagant displays.

  • Apparently, Venetian authorities did not believe in "pimping their rides".

  • Still, some wealthy Venetians chose to pay the fines in order to maintain their ornamental gondolas, a small price to keep up appearances.

  • The distinctive look of the gondola developed over many centuries.

  • Each gondola was constructed in a family boatyard called a "squero".

  • From their fathers and grandfathers, sons learned how to select and season pieces of beech, cherry, elm, fir, larch, lime, mahogany, oak, and walnut.

  • The gondola makers began with a wooden template that may have been hammered into the workshop floor generations earlier.

  • From this basic form, they attached fore and aft sterns, then formed the longitudinal planks and ribs that made up the frame of a boat designed to glide through shallow, narrow canals.

  • A gondola has no straight lines or edges.

  • Its familiar profile was achieved through an impressive fire and water process that involved warping the boards with torches made of marsh reeds set ablaze.

  • However, the majority of the 500 hours that went into building a gondola involved the final stages: preparing surfaces and applying successive coats of waterproof varnish.

  • The varnish was a family recipe, as closely guarded as one for risotto or a homemade sauce.

  • Yet even with the woodwork finished, the gondola was still not complete.

  • Specialized artisans supplied their gondola-making colleagues with elaborate covered passenger compartments, upholstery, and ornaments of steel and brass.

  • Oar makers became integral partners to the gondola makers.

  • The Venetian oarlock, or "fórcola", began as a simple wooden fork, but evolved into a high-precision tool that allowed a gondolier to guide the oar into many positions.

  • By the late 1800s, gondola makers began to make the left side of the gondola wider than the right as a counter balance to the force created by a single gondolier.

  • This modification allowed rowers to steer from the right side only, and without lifting the oar from the water.

  • While these modifications improved gondola travel, they were not enough to keep pace with motorized boats.

  • Today, only about 400 gondolas glide through the waterways of Venice, and each year, fewer authentic gondolas are turned out by hand.

  • But along the alleys, street signs contain words in Venetian dialect for the locations of old boatyards, oar makers, and ferry stations,

  • imprinting the memory of the boat-building trades that once kept life in the most serene republic gliding along at a steady clip.

If I say, "Venice", do you imagine yourself gliding down the Grand Canal, serenaded by a gondolier?

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C1 TED-Ed gondola venetian venice canal ferry

【TED-Ed】Corruption, wealth and beauty: The history of the Venetian gondola - Laura Morelli

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    Jenny posted on 2022/10/26
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