I have always admired them, while they were graciously sailing with elegance through the canals, like they were floating inside a dream. I am talking about gondolas, the typical boats of the lagoon renowned all around the world.
Finding out how these particular means of transportation are brought into the world has been a real feast for the eyes, nonetheless a chance to get to know an art that, little by little, though it should be worth of being preserved, seems condemned to disappear. At sunset we arrived at the ‘squero’, which literally means ‘construction yard’ or ‘set square’. It is indeed a magical place where the ‘squeraroli’ build with their own hands this special boat with which gondoliers sail through the canals every day.
How does a gondola come to life? This manufacture dates back to 1610, an age in which the master artisans founded a real and proper manufacturing school. The techniques used nowadays are the same as the ones employed centuries ago.
With a flame alimented by a swamp cane, the ‘squeraroli’ curve the ply of wood, rendering its traditional concave shape. The cradle where the ribs structure is placed is a matrix where the same gondola’s framework is inserted. Every watercraft is 11 metres long and built with eight different types of wood: the outcome of an ancient knowledge that has sedimented throughout the centuries.
The most exciting moment of the whole visit was to discover the secret behind the ‘fèrro’ (the unique decoration) on the bow, the most fascinating part of the gondola. Did you know where its traditional curved comb shape comes from? Every element of the ‘fèrro’ is a symbol of a different historic location in Venice (Grand Canal, San Marco, Rialto bridge, the six ‘sestrieri’ – the boroughs of Venice), whilst the decorations represent its islands. The most prominent part is called ‘cappello del doge’ because it reminds of the typical hat of the chief-of-state lordship ruling on the city of Venice.
It has been an unusual visit, where I found out about the history and all the secrets behind the techniques of one of the most loved watercraft in the whole world. Ready for some sailing?