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This is the last of three posts on water transport, and it is about the gondola and water taxis. For centuries the gondola was the chief means of transportation and most common vessel within Venice. There are just over four hundred in active service today, virtually all of them used for hire by tourists. They are essentially dressed-up water taxis.

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While in previous centuries, gondolas could be many different colors. Now, all gondolas are supposed to be painted black.

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Four passengers are about the maximum number of passengers that can be accomodated.

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The gondolas still have a role in public transport in the city, serving as traghetti (ferries) over the Grand Canal. The service is offered only to residents and cost about 1-2 euros. I saw one operating in the morning ferrying commuters near the Rialto market.

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The historical gondola was quite different usually having two rowers. The banana-shaped modern gondola was developed only in the 19th century and the construction continued to evolve until the mid-20th century, when the city government prohibited any further modifications.

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Every detail of the gondola has its own symbolism. The iron head of the gondola, called “fero da prorà” or “dol fin“, is needed to balance the weight of the gondolier at the stern and has an “S” shape symbolic of the twists in the Canal Grande. Under the main blade there is a kind of comb with six teeth or prongs (“rebbi “) standing for the six sestieri (districts) of Venice.

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For some, one extra prong juts out backwards toward the centre of the gondola (see photo below), symbolises the island of Giudecca. The curved top signifies the Doge’s cap. The semi-circular break between the curved top and the six teeth is said to represent the Rialto Bridge.

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It is propelled by a gondolier and never poled like a punt as the waters of Venice are too deep.

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The profession of gondolier is controlled by a guild, which issues a limited number of licenses (425) granted after periods of training and apprenticeship, and a major comprehensive exam which tests knowledge of history and landmarks, foreign language skills, and practical skills in handling the gondola typically necessary in the tight spaces of the canals. Here, he had to tilt the gondola and bent over sideways in order to squeeze beneath the bridge and then steer the boat tightly to turn right.

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Gondola traffic jam is quite common.

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The modern water taxis are essentially speed boats. They are just as popular as gondolas and can take more passengers.

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Taxi stands

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They run typically between the airport and a hotel in the city.

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It is a bit pricy. But if there are several people, it is worth it simply for the thrill of speeding across the lagoon right after a flight to a hotel with its canal side entrance.

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Some tourists arrive by cruise ship – much bigger ones than these river crusies (see pictures online).  These mega ships apparently cause environmental problems for the city (affects the silt at the bottom of the lagoon ?).

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If you have missed them, part 1 and part 2 of Buses, Taxis and Gondolas are here and here.



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