The Gondola


Had the gondolas of Venice never been invented (or, more accurately, evolved), no one could possibly imagine them. An odd and unique craft, the gondola has become as much a part of Venice as the canals themselves.

But so much about them is strange. Their forms are twisted and warped, in so many ways. While the bottom of a gondola is flat, it doesn't ride flat in the water, but tilted to starboard (the right). A gondola travels in a direction offset from its lines, and the port side bows out and rides slightly higher above the water. Incredibly, the craft is even twisted along its length, leaving the axe-bladed ferro (the seven-fingered metal headpiece) tilted even further to starboard.


The profile a gondola presents is also unique, bringing to mind a setting crescent moon. The gondolier rides standing high on its arching tail, paddling, not polling as one might expect. The bow (fore end) of the craft, tipped by the large, purely ornamental ferro, rises out of the water proudly in an almost straight line. Only a small part of a gondola actually sits in the water, making them very agile craft; it also gives them the appearance of gliding above the water's surface.

Gondola Image 1

All of this is cloaked in a piano black finish which creates even more mystery. Like shadows, gondolas give us only brief glimpses of their true forms, in reflections, usually of the dark water of the canals. They are like the people wearing masks at Carnival, hiding in plain view.

Each gondola is unique, and made by hand using knowledge passed down through the generations. Some builders build the twist in, while others build the craft symmetrical and twist it later, creating great internal stresses that sometimes break the hull.

Gondola Image 2

There are many small touches that can decorate gondolas; the edges are accented with beaded trim and complex carvings are not uncommon. Golden sea-horses or flying dragons mount on the arm rests, holding the tie-lines. Many gondolas feature gilded paintings, and sometimes the ferro is shined to a mirror finish.

But even the simplest unadorned gondola is a work of art. These exotic shapes seem to exist in four dimensions instead of three, their complex curves only showing a small part from any one viewpoint. The curves seems restless; they never stop changing. It's almost as if the gondola came from something other than a human mind, a magical achievement, an alien craft formed here on Earth.

Gondola Image 3