Monday, March 28, 2005
Gondolas on the Grand Canal
With origins going back at least a thousand years, the gondola is probably the most-recognizable symbol of Venice. All gondolas are painted black, a result of the Sumptuary Laws of 1562, which placed strict limits on lavish displays of wealth.
Gondolas are built with a slight curve to the right so one person can propel the boat using an oar on the right side of the stern. Gondolas are extremely effective. A 170-pound man rowing a fully-loaded gondola (which can weight up to almost 2,000 pounds) uses up no more energy than he would walking down the street.
Today, there are about 400 gondolas operating in Venice, compared to 10,000 in the 19th century. Only Venetian men have been granted gondolier licenses. In 2004, Alexandra Hai, a film-maker from Hamburg who lives in Venice, became the first (and only) woman to apply for a gondolier's license. She failed the test, which is administered by the Gondolier's Association, because her gondola bumped into another one during the trial.