The History of the Gondola

The History of the Gondola

If you are planning a trip to Venice riding low on the water inside a gondola gives an interesting perspective from which to take in the city. Although gondolas are mainly used by tourists, a gondola ride can take many forms other than the touristic sightseeing mission including; the romantic journey and the straightforward a-to-b.

The Gondola is the traditional, flat-bottomed boat that, after centuries of use, has become associated with the canals and waterways of Venice. Ask one hundred people what comes to mind when they think of Venice and the majority will mention the gondola.

Gondolas in Venice

The gondola has been in use in Venice since at least the early 16th Century. Evidence of their use comes from works of art by Carpaccio and Jacopo de Barbari’s map of Venice.

Gondolas are costly to produce and their highly specialised construction features a number of components. The prominent bow of the gondola is known as the ferro whilst the smaller stern is called the risso - both are made from steel and are often elaborate in their design. Some gondolas are fitted with a cabin or covering known as a felze to protect passengers from inclement weather or provide some privacy. The sweep/oar is held in place by a complicated piece called the forcola. This is an important component as it must hold the sweep in various positions depending on the rowing style.

In 1562 it was estimated that there were over 10,000 gondola in Venice. It was in 1562 that a law was passed that aimed to regulate the appearance of gondolas in Venice. To this day all gondola in Venice are painted black.

Styles of Gondola


The traditional and most well known gondola style is usually around 10 metres long and is propelled by a single gondolier who stands at the rear of the gondola with his sweep/oar off the starboard side. Anywhere from 2 to 6 people can fit in this traditional style of gondola depending on how it is fitted out.


In some canals but especially along the Grand Canal you will find two-man gondolas called traghetti. Slightly larger than regular gondola, traghetti function as passenger ferries and can take up to 12 passengers. Traghetti are usually found on the Grand Canal.

The Vogalonga Regatta in Venice

In 2017 the Vogalonga Regatta celebrated its 43rd year. The symbolic race is one of the most celebrated events in Venice and sees rowers from all over the world come together to celebrate the art of rowing, specifically Venetian rowing. Although referred to as a race, the Vogalonga has no winner, instead competitors aim to complete a route Venice which starts in St. Mark’s Basin and covers approximately 30km of canals and open water within the lagoon.

If you are planning a trip to Venice but are unsure of how to get the most out of your time in the city, we can help. We have been providing services to tourists to the city since 1995 including a range of guided and private tours around Venice and the lagoon.

If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact our friendly team who would be happy to answer any queries you may have or see our website.