Venice Gondola on the Grand Canal of Venice
Venice Gondola on the Grand Canal of Venice

Oriane's Opinion

Oriane: A gondola ride with someone you love is a must in Venice. It is certainly a little cliché but the gondola ride allows you to see Venice very gradually, to see the old districts, to completely admire the fabulous show which unfolds slowly before our eyes.

Angel's Opinion

A Romantic Tour of Venice for Lovers, a Gondola Ride Through Venice’s Canals!

Venice gondolas stored in the gondola parking lot in Piazza San Marco in Venice
Venice gondolas stored in the gondola parking lot in Piazza San Marco in Venice
Venice gondola in front of the Rialto bridge of the Grand Canal in Venice
Venice gondola in front of the Rialto bridge of the Grand Canal in Venice

The History of the Gondolas of Venice

For more than 1000 years, these Venetian boats have been moving peacefully through Venice, its canals and its lagoon. Gondolas were the means of transportation for all Venetian families, even more essential at a time when Venice did not have as many bridges, and no other means of transportation.

Today, the gondola has become a symbol of the city of the Doges, and although it is mainly used by tourists in search of romance, it is also used by Venetians for traditional purposes.

Indeed, a gondola decorated with flowers, driven by a gondolier dressed entirely in white is used for weddings.

It (or more often its larger cousin the barchetta da traghetto) can also be the last boat that will take a deceased Venetian to the cemetery of Venice, located on the island of San Michele.

Funeral Gondola Venice for the San Michele Island
Funeral Gondola Venice for the San Michele Island

And then, out of pride for their traditions and concern for preserving them, young Venetians also learn how to row gondolas in sports clubs.

The gondolino, a smaller and more streamlined cousin of the gondola (length 10.50 m, width 1.10 m) was created in 1825 and is used only for the traditional Venetian boat regattas, the oldest and best known of which, the Regata Storica, takes place every year on the first Sunday in September.

Every Venetian family has at least one member to cheer for.

The gondola has been used since time immemorial by the inhabitants of the Venetian lagoon to get around. But its name appears in an official document only in 1094. It is mentioned in a decree of the doge Vital Faliero de Doni, the same one who authorized the holding of the carnival of Venice for the first time.

Gondola Venice at the Regata storica
Gondola Venice at the Regata storica

Until the first half of the twentieth century, it was the most used means of transport (the equivalent of the carriage), and the Barchetta da Traghetto was used to transport goods or public transportation. In the 16th century, when there was a kind of competition between the rich families of Venice to have the most beautiful and largest gondola, a regulation put an end to this escalation that was turning ridiculous, clogging up the small canals, transforming the gondola, and risking to annihilate centuries of tradition.

  • The decree of 1562 imposed the color black on all Venetian gondolas and fixed their shape and dimensions.

Today, it is only used by tourists or to respect traditions in a sporting or folkloric way. The motorboats have taken the place of the particular gondolas and the barchetti da traghetto used for the transport of goods, while the vaporetto is the main form of public transportation in Venice, even though the traghetto is still in service along the Grand Canal for simple crossings.

Ancient gondolas can be admired at the Museum of Naval History of Venice located in the arsenal district of Castello.

Gondola Venice at the Naval Museum
Gondola Venice at the Naval Museum

Description of Venetian Gondolas

Since the decree of 1562, gondolas are required to be painted black and to be 10.80 meters long and 1.38 meters wide. They weigh only 600 kilograms and, since the 19th century, have an asymmetrical shape (transverse axis shifted to the right and the left side more curved) allowing a single gondolier to propel it while maintaining a straight trajectory.
This one is standing, at the back, on the left side and plunges his long flat wooden oar which measures 4,20 meters on the right side of the gondola.

Oriane & Angel’s Opinion

Oriane: From the engravings and old paintings, it seems that the figurehead of the gondola has evolved during the centuries… Do you know what it is and why?

Angel: It’s true that it was simpler in the past, and that it only served to counterbalance the weight of the gondolier. Since the XVII century it has a symbolic meaning, representing Venice and its power.

Oriane: The shape of the upper part resembles that of the doge’s cap. It is a symbol of power and protection over the city!

Angel: Yes! Bingo! That’s exactly it! And the six horizontal bars pointing forward symbolize the six sestieri (districts) of Venice. In order from the bottom, Santa Croce, San Polo, San Marco, Dorsoduro, Castello and Cannaregio.

Oriane: And the islands in the lagoon? Were they left out?

Angel: Not at all! The Venetians have quite a taste for the symbolism and are rather concerned with details! The small stylized points inserted between the two on the top, the two in the middle, and the two of the bottom correspond to the islands of Torcello, Burano and Murano.

Oriane: What about the Island of Giudecca?

Angel: Well, it’s the seventh horizontal bar, facing backwards.

Oriane: There are also curves… In the empty space in a semicircle between the upper part and the first bar…. That looks to me like a bridge

Angel: You’re right. And it’s not just any bridge. It’s the one that symbolizes commerce in Venice: the magnificent Rialto Bridge. And since you’re talking about curves, what do you think the beautiful curve on the lower part symbolizes?

Comb Gondola Venice
Comb Gondola Venice

Oriane: Uhhhh… The Grand Canal unites everything in Venice! That’s what it looks like!

Angel: Exactly. All the pride and power of Venice in the world has been symbolized by the bow of its symbol, the gondola.

Oriane: Venice symbolized by its symbol? Ouch, ouch, ouch!

The gondola is made of 280 pieces of different woods (walnut, cherry, oak, larch, lime, and cedar) and two metal pieces at the front and back.

Some of the wood pieces are crucial to maneuver the boat. The forca or forcole, carved, according to the size and measurements of the gondolier, in walnut for its hardness, is used to support the oar which is not fixed so it can be easily released.

Other pieces of wood, are provided with rounded notches, the morsi, there are eight of them, enable the oar to move and be maneuvered properly (backward, tight turn, rotation, etc.).

All the gondolas are lit at night by a candle placed opposite the gondolier, a dim light that accentuates the romanticism.

Forcole Gondola Venice
Forcole Gondola Venice

The only parts that vary from one gondola to another, besides the size of the forca, are the cavai / cavalli. These are decorations in the middle of the gondola, in front of the armrests, which are used to fix the hanging ropes and represent allegorical figures such as a mermaid, or a seahorse who is sometimes mounted.

Squero Gondola Venice cavalli mermaid
Squero Gondola Venice cavalli mermaid
Squero Gondola Venice cavalli mermaid

The Squero and the Remero

The squeri are the workshops where the gondolas are built and maintained while the oars and forcole are made in the remeri. Always completely handmade, the manufacture of a gondola requires about a month of work, hence its price of about 20,000 euros.

However, today there are only 5 squeri in Venice: 2 in the Dorsoduro (squeri Tramontin and San Trevoso), 2 in the Giudecca (squeri Crea and Costantini dei Rossi) and one in the Castello (squero San Giuseppe), to which we can add the squero Bonaldo, now disused in the Dorsoduro.

The most beautiful is the squero San Trevoso.

Squero Gondola Venice
Squero Gondola Venice

Les gondoliers de Venise

In the 16th century, when the gondola was the only means of transportation in Venice, there were about 10,000 gondoliers. This trade was passed down from father to son.

But today, there are only about 450 gondoliers, and as everything is regulated in Venice, their number is fixed every year with a numerus clausus.

To become a gondolier, it is no longer enough to be the son of a gondolier, and it is not even necessary. But it is necessary to pass a first competition to enter the Ente Gondola (The Gondolier School) where 150 young people train to become gondoliers.

But this is not enough to have the privilege of exercising this very lucrative profession (up to 12,000 euros per month, a large part of which is in cash!) which consists of taking tourists along the canals of the Serenissima. It is then necessary to be in the first few places in a second competition to obtain the precious license necessary to occupy one of the 3 or 4 places available each year.

Peinture gondolier venise

This profession, historically held exclusively my men, was recently opened to women, on August 13, 2010, and Georgia Boscolo was the first woman to obtain her gondolier license.

Gondolier déguisement tenue carnaval Buran

The Venice gondolier’s outfit includes a sailor’s jacket, a scarf, a red belt and a boater. The only supplier is Emilio Ceccato, where you can also buy one of these clothes or accessories as a souvenir of a trip to Venice.

Gondolier Venise : vêtement, tenue

The Songs of the Gondoliers of Venice: the Barcarolles

Many traditions are maintained around the gondola. It has its role in the Venetian festivals and private ceremonies but also in the city of Venice’s traditional festivals including the regattas of traditional boats.

Oriane & Angel's Opinion

Oriane: Since we are talking about traditions that have to do with the gondola, I want to talk about the one that is in the gondola, and that fits so well with the thereof romance: the song of the gondolier!

Angel: These are the barcarolles. They are traditional Venetian songs, love songs whose ternary rhythm evokes the swing of the gondola on the water.

Oriane: The name “barcarolle” or “barcarole”, in Italian “barcauola” comes from the word “barcauolo” which, coming from the word “barca” (the boat), indicates the boatman. By extension, this song gave its name to this romantic musical style, and more particularly to the ternary rhythm composed of a quarter note and an eighth note.

Angel: In fact, it was simply traditional Venetian songs that were heard along the Grand Canal, in the palaces, in the ridotti (private gaming rooms), theaters, churches, but also in the more modest homes and on the small canals. In short, all over Venice.

Oriane: So what does this have to do with the gondolier?

Angel: A gondolier is above all a Venetian! And therefore, quite naturally he sang while rowing to accompany his effort.

Oriane: But why didn’t they call this song “veniti-ole”, “ridott-ole”, “cas-ole” or “palazz-ole”?

Angel: Simply because their ternary rhythm is perfect for the gondola and that they were heard on Venice’s canals, big and small, as if they came exclusively from the gondolas. Composers of baroque music in the 18th century named these songs.

Oriane: In fact, since 1699 there is a barcarolle in the ballet “The carnival of Venice” composed by French composer André Campra.

Angel: In fact, these songs of popular origin which were echoed in all the lagoon, made it around the world inspiring poets and composers. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Georges Sand, for verses, or Franz Liszt for his symphonic poem “Tasso lamento e trionfo”.

Oriane: These songs, although of popular origin, have moved even the most renowned composers! Richard Wagner even recounted his emotion at the time of this discovery: “It was during a sleepless night that I first heard the hymn of the gondoliers of Venice. Coming from the Rialto, it sounded like a complaint, and resumed after pauses often prolonged by other gondoliers making their way towards the Academia or Saint Mark’s Square”.

Gondolas in Art

Gondolas can be seen in many paintings by Venetian painters, many of which are on display at the Galeria dell’Accademia.

For example, the Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Rialto Bridge by Vittore Carpaccio or the Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Bridge of San Lorenzo by Gentille Bellini.

Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Rialto Bridge by Vittore Carpaccio

Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Bridge of San Lorenzo by Gentile Bellini

The gondolas of Venice are also beautifully highlighted in watercolors by anonymous as well as renowned painters.

The glassmakers of Murano also make beautiful pieces.

And then the gondolas and the romanticism they evoke have inspired many singers. We can obviously mention “Les gondoles à Venise” by Sheila and Ringo in 1973, but also the less known song “Le gondolier de Venise” by Roland Lebrun, in 1947, which tells the story of a gondolier or “La chanson du gondolier” by Tino Rossi in 1936.

Lyrics of the gondolier's song

Venise est belle et calme
et sur la lagune où le flot s’endort
La lune en se mirant
pose doucement de longs reflets d’or
Le vent du nord repasse
et comme en jouant pousse mon bateau
Portant mon doux appel à tous les échos.
Oh! oh! oh! oh! Oh! oh! oh! oh!

L’amour s’est embarqué sur ma gondole
Et je redis pour lui ma douce barcarolle
Plus tendre dans la nuit au ciel qui luit
Ma voix s’envole et jusqu’au jour chante l’amour.

Passagers d’une nuit
tendrement blottis dans un rêve fou

Laissez-moi vous bercer
puis jusqu’au matin soupirer pour vous
Je suis celui qui chante
en vous caressant de désirs nouveaux
Et grâce à moi ce soir tout vous semble beau.
Oh! oh! oh! oh! Oh! oh! oh! oh!

L’amour s’est embarqué sur ma gondole
Et je redis pour lui ma douce barcarolle
Plus tendre dans la nuit au ciel qui luit
Ma voix s’envole et jusqu’au jour chante l’amour.

Et je redis pour lui ma douce barcarolle

Ma voix s’envole et jusqu’au jour chante l’amour.

Lyrics of the song "let the gondolas in Venice"

Laisse les gondoles à Venise
Le printemps sur la Tamise
On n’ouvre pas les valises
On est si bien
Laisse au loin les Pyramides

Le soleil de la Floride
Mets-nous un peu de musique et prends ma main

Tu es venu me chercher tout à l’heure
Pour aller au cinéma
On a oublié le temps et l’heure
Il est minuit déjà
Il fait moins deux dehors les grêlons
Frappent sur les carreaux
On va se faire des œufs au jambon
Du pain grillé du café chaud

Laisse les gondoles à Venise
Le printemps sur la Tamise
On n’ouvre pas les valises

Lyrics of the song "The gondolier of Venice"

Bercé par la vague plaintive
À Venise par un beau soir
Je voguais en suivant la rive
Le cœur plein d’amour et d’espoir
J’écoutais la douce cadence
Le bruit des flots harmonieux
Un gondolier dans le silence
Redisait son chant gracieux
Je suis gondolier de Venise
Mon pays n’a que des beaux jours
Ma gondole fuit sous la brise
Et les flots bercent nos amours
Je suis gondolier de Venise
Mon pays n’a que des beaux jours
Ma gondole fuit sous la brise
Et les flots bercent nos amours
Il chantait : mon cœur l’a choisie
Celle que j’aime a des beaux yeux
Son cœur est plein de poésie
Son sourire est toujours joyeux
Sa gondole légère et belle
Se balance au bruit du flot pur
Doux comme l’hirondelle
S’envole en dessous d’un ciel d’azur
Je suis gondolier de Venise
Mon pays n’a que des beaux jours
Ma gondole fuit sous la brise
Et les flots bercent nos amours
Je suis gondolier de Venise
Mon pays n’a que des beaux jours
Ma gondole fuit sous la brise
Et les flots bercent nos amours.

Finally, the gondolas of Venice are mentioned in many films:

How much does a gondola ride in Venice cost?

The price of a gondola ride is the same for all 425 gondoliers in Venice:

  • During the day from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm: 80€ for 30 minutes, regardless of the number of people (maximum 6), then 40€ for every additional 20 minutes.
  • At night from 7:00 pm to 3:00 am: 100€ for 35 minutes, regardless of the number of people (maximum 6), then 50€ for every additional 20 minutes.

Where is the best place to get on a gondola in Venice?

You’ll find the most gondoliers around Piazza San Marco:

  • The gondola “parking lot” at the Orseeolo Basin
  • The Campo San Moise

But you can find gondoliers everywhere, especially around Rialto (also very touristic, so gondola trains), and in all the sestieri of the Serenissima, especially Cannaregio (less crowded, more picturesque, go to campo di ghetto nuovo).

Our advice for a gondola ride:

The gondolas are crowded with tourists, and groups, so there is a wait due to the crowds.

To avoid unnecessary waits, and to enjoy every moment in Venice, we advise you to buy your gondola tour in advance:

To learn more about the gondolas in Venice, we invite you to visit the Italian website dedicated to gondolas

To get around Venice you will find all the descriptions on our vaporetto page of the vaporetto lines and their schedules.
If you want to plan ahead and buy a pass that allows you to cut lines, it is better to buy an ACTV vaporetto pass.

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