How to Become a Gondolier

How to Become a Gondolier

It is not possible to think about Italy, without thinking about its famous Venetian Gondolas. Gondolas are ancient, so ancient that the trace of its official inventor is hard to find. Indeed, this flat-bottom boat is around a thousand years old! There is a first mention of a Gondola in a correspondence from Doge Vitale Falier who was a Duke in Venice in 1094 where he used the word gondulam. Weather it is old or pretty recent, everyone loves a nice gondola ride on the venetian river where you can fill your eyes with wonders and your ears with beautiful and melodic Italian songs. Today, we are taking you to Venice for your first (or second) gondola ride... Enjoy!

Italian Gondola

What is a gondola? 

A gondola is a boat that has a flat bottom and it is about 10,85 metres (34ft.) about 1,40 metres (4.5 ft.)  in width.  The boat is made with several kinds of wood such as fir, cherry, chestnut, elm, oak, linden tree and many more. It can take up to 2 years to build it, using about 280 wooden pieces, and its weight ranges about 350 kg to 600 kg or about 770  to 1300 pounds. It is not until the 15th Century that we will see the "modern" gondola that we know today. The color black was imposed to refrain an unfair competition with the rich Venetians who would ornate the boat with gold and other treasures. Up until the Second World War, gondolas were guided by 2 gondoliers and they were used by people as a private mode of transportation. Kind of like Uber, without the app! 

How to navigate a Gondola

Gondolas are a very interesting kind of boat. It is propelled by a person who stands facing the bow and rows with a forward stroke followed by a backward stroke in order to compensate the movement. Because of its flat bottom, the gondola can also be drifted sideways if it is necessary.

Funny fact, the gondolas were equipped at some point with a little cabin from the passengers to protect them form the weather or people looking at them. It even had windows with blinds (original Venetian blinds!) to offer you the perfect intimate moment. This cabin, or "felze" disappeared in the early 20th Century.

how to become a gondolier

In order for  you to become a gondolier you need to get a permit. There would be around 433 Gondoliers with a permit today. There is a limit of permits and Venice reached it. The number of gondolas was estimated to 10,000 in the 16th century and the gondoliers were a separate group in society. The knowledge was passed from one generation to another, from father to son. This system disappeared in 1980 and you can now take the exam. You have to prove your seriousness, knowledge of boating, willingness to clean the gondola, but also your willingness to help tourists to settle and feel confortable. The first women to obtain her permit is now working in the area of  Dorsoduro. She passed her exam in 2009. Are you ready for the exam? 

We hope you enjoyed reading about How to Become a Gondolier! One thing we must add that is the number one goal for gondoliers is the Regata Storica. It is an annual race that will allow winners to belong to a family (of  gondoliers)! Do you have pictures of  your recent trip in Venice? Don't forget to add them in the comments' section below. Looking for more Italian language & culture? Check out our Italian Group Classes and Private Lessons at JP Linguistics taught by native instructors. Grazie mille!