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.
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.