Historical Gondola Tidbits to Impress your Friends

October 16, 2014 / Local Interest
Venice, Veneto

On a recent boat trip down the Brenta canal from Venice to Padova, we stopped at the gondola exhibit inside the Villa Widmann, and learned some interesting historical details about Venice’s most famous boat.

The Gondola Cover

Our guide explained that gondolas historically had a cover, called a Felze, which was added if needed to protect travelers from cold, wind, or fog, or sometimes if desired for privacy. Felze were made by artisans called felzeri, who created them from wood or metal, and left them plain or decorated according to the customer’s wishes. Adding and removing the felze from the gondola meant it was not as easy for passengers to get in and out of the boats, so the covers have not been in use for decades.

Gondola Felze
The Gondola’s decorative bow

The bow of every gondola has a decorative element, referred to as the dolphin (because of its alleged resemblance to a dolphin’s snout), whose function is to protect the bow in case of a collision.

But, the dolphin’s unique shape is historically significant as well. Impress your fellow travelers during your next gondola ride with these interesting tidbits:

– The six horizontal pieces extending right represent the six neighborhoods of Venice.
– The single piece extending left represents the Giudecca island.
– The three decorative elements in between the six pieces represent the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello.
– The shape of the top end represents the hat of the Doge, the historical ruler of Venice.
– The small half circle at the bottom of the hat shape represents the Rialto Bridge.
– The “S” shape formed from the top of the dolphin to the bottom represents the Grand Canal.

Gondola bow decoration

by Madeline Jhawar

Madeline is the owner of Italy Beyond the Obvious, and creates Italy itineraries for independent travelers.

6 Responses to “Historical Gondola Tidbits to Impress your Friends”

  1. William Strangio

    The Gondolas shape is very complicated and subtle it is curved in two directions. It is shaped like that because it is propelled by a single person. Without the curves the boat would tend to go around in a circle, with the gondolier having to work hard to keep it going in a straight line.

  2. Anstell Ricossa

    How interesting…Wish we had know this on our visit last year..Look forward to (speriamo) check it out on our next visit ! Grazie.

  3. Janet Eidem

    That was very enjoyable. Historic, geographic, interesting. Love learning new stuff like this. Thank you

  4. Madeline,
    Love all of this – since I adore Venice and have written about my travels there, I did know some of these interesting facts. Returning next spring I will take careful note again. I would also love to know what boat tour you took on the Brenta??


Leave a Reply