Guest Challenge: Symbolism



The Venetian Gondola

The shiny, sleek keel-less vessels navigating the winding waterways of Venice, might not be the choice of transport of its diminished local population any longer, but they remain the most familiar visual identifiers of the city. Cliched symbols inextricably linked to its cultural identity. Perhaps more universally recognised than its monumental components.

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While a selfie on a romantic cruise is a mandatory ‘must do’ on most Venice itineraries, few tourists are aware of the gondola’s history or the symbolism inherent in its design.

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The earliest known ancestors of the present gondole were large, multi-oared boats with little ornamentation. By the fifteenth century they shrank considerably in size, acquiring vibrant awnings, ornate seating and plush upholstery. Within a century, they evolved into sleeker, sumptuous and colourful showpieces of wealthy aristocrats, until a 17th century egalitarian Doge’s edict decreed the uniform black enamel and the precise dimensions of 10.87m by 1.42 m. The only change since has been the lengthening of the left side by 24cm to counterbalance the gondoliers weight and rowing action. This late 19th century refinement gives the craft its characteristic list along with its current fluidity of motion.

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Each gondola assembled from 280 components is handcrafted from eight types of natural wood. Each is fitted to individual gondoliers, with unique and detachable rowlocks – forcola – carved to the gondoliers personal specifications. And each incorporates visual metaphors in its elegant design embellishments.

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The sinuous shape of the heavy iron prow the ferro di prora, is said to mimic the Grand Canal itself. Its distinctive blade, the Doge’s cap. The six prongs (rebbi) beneath, depict the six sestieri (neighbourhoods), and the lone prong opposite (risso di poopa), the island of Giudecca. The other iconic symbol of the city, the Rialto bridge, is represented by the tiny arch between the ‘cap’ and the prongs!

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With the number of vessels plying the canals down to a few hundred from some 10,000 at the end of the 16th century, and just three squeri (shipwright) working overtime to replace aged craft, this most beautiful boat in the world faces the risk of fading into the pages of history. Regardless of the fact that it only ferries tourists today, Venice would not be Venice without its gondole.

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Especially written for Paula’s Thursday Special challenge – Symbolism. I am honoured to be hosting today’s challenge…..thank you very much Paula! 

70 Comments on “Guest Challenge: Symbolism

  1. You excel your excellent self, Madhu. I’m obviously going to have to visit Venice. Such a visit will be enriched by what you’ve told in this post, along with your superb photos.


    • Aww, thank you for the kind words Meg! I have always been captivated by those seductive boats. The trivia enhanced my enjoyment of them on my return visit.


  2. Pingback: Thursday’s Special: Symbolism | Lost in Translation

    • Thank you. I was disappointed with the light though. It was grey and cloudy most of the time.


  3. Great job of the formatting Paula! You are right, I do need to include more images online! 😀 Thanks again for inviting me to host this challenge.


  4. Exquisite photos, well informed writing ! As usual, such a delight to read Madhu’s posts. True, Venice would not be Venice…..without the Gondoliers and the tourists..who keep them going.


  5. This is a gorgeous take on the challenge, Madhu. You show us beautiful captures of iconic Venice, meaning so much to so many of us. ❤


    • Hard to escape the seductive charms of that city Dina! 🙂 Thank you for reading.
      PS: Might have accidentally deleted your comment when I deleted the re-blog on my site. Apologies 🙂


  6. Pingback: Guest Challenge Symbolism: The Venetian Gondola | The Urge To Wander

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  9. A fabulous post, Madhu. I had no idea of the history and intricacies of design of these iconic craft. Love your photos. They took me right back to Venice as I sit here eating my breakfast. Oh for a means of instant transportation! 🙂


  10. Interesting symbols and their connections, Madhu. There must be prestige in this occupation in that that the boat and gondolier are fitted for each other. Not many boat builders left, either.


    • No. And not everyone can be a gondolier. Its a skilled and rather exclusive job. But therein lies the appeal I think, as well as the risk 🙂



  12. Wonderful captures of one of my favorite spots in the world. Interesting to hear more of the history of the iconic gondola. Definitely symbolic of beautiful Venice.


  13. Enjoyed this post very much – and so many tasty shares from Madhu. Also, Paula – you are so nice the way you promote and support bloggers through this feature – the way you honor them is just cool. 🙂 but enough of that – back to this post – I liked all the unique details that I do not often see when people share photos from Vencie.

    Liked learning tidbits like this “Each gondola assembled from 280 components is handcrafted from eight types of natural wood. Each is fitted to individual gondoliers” and I like the floe up details – like the blue and white design on the pillows – of that black shaggy stuff in the photo in the slide show.


  14. VERY interesting. I like it when someone gets inside of a place, or a thing, and gives us maybe some history, or other detail that brings it off the page and into our minds in a way more than simply “I did this on vacation.” You always do!


  15. Wonderful Photographs 🙂
    Venice is on my bucket list, just got moved up again 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your art, they’re beautiful
    Take Care…You Matter…


    • Hello Maryrose. Thank you for commenting on Madhu’s guest post. I have a question for you – what is the meaning of your emoticon )0( ?


  16. Great information. I am a sucker for Venice (mostly the back streets), but we only use the vaporetti when we go, and admire the gondole from afar.


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