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Gondolas, gondoliers, and the Grand Canal

Marcy Williams Published: May 25, 2010
Rowing teams from all over competed on May 23 in a race on the Grand Canal.
Rowing teams from all over competed on May 23 in a race on the Grand Canal.

No description of Venice would be complete without elaborating on the Grand Canal, the S-shaped waterway that separate Venice into two parts.  Those two parts are further divided into six regions.

The largest, best-known bridge over the Grand Canal is the Rialto Bridge, lined with shops.  On Sunday, May 23rd there was a large sailing race on the canal.  Rowing teams from other countries and regions competed and were loudly cheered from the Rialto Bridge, as well as along the route.

The canal serves as the main route of transportation for all manner of boats:  canoes, kayaks, motor boats, and gondolas.  The story of gondolas and gondoliers is an interesting one.

There are now about 450 gondolas, used mostly by tourists.  Each gondolier owns is own gondola. Prior to the 15th century, there was competition for decorating them, trying to own the most beautiful. A law was made then that all gondolas must be painted black, and the design is symbolic to represent the S-shape of the canal, the six districts of Venice, and the doge’s hat.

Our gondolier Roberto
Our gondolier Roberto
Tana and Mickey Stufflebean are ready for their gondola ride.
Tana and Mickey Stufflebean are ready for their gondola ride.

Gondolas are handmade of 250 pieces and 5 kinds of wood., costing 40,000-50,000 Euros.

That, however, is much less expensive than the cost of a gondolier license.   A gondolier license is passed down from generation to generation.  Our evening gondola ride was conducted by Roberto, whose father and grandfathers were gondoliers before him.  The training is given by the father but there are also a number of tests that must be passed, including English language and Venetian history.  The value of the license is now 700,000 Euros.

For the investment of gondola and license, a gondolier makes approximately 10,000 Euros a month.  All of that money so we, the tourists, can enjoy a romantic ride through the canals of Venice!