When people think about Venice, one of the first images that comes to mind - together with the Basilica di San Marco with its steeple and, also, the magnificent Palazzo Ducale, of course – are the iconic gondolas, and the narrow waterways of Venice that these boats drift down. I wanted to know more.
Tourists can sometimes think of the gondola as merely a platform, from where to take nice pictures, but it was once a real means of transport. On a hot but windy summer day I decide to visit the Squero of San Trovaso that dates back to the XVII Century, it’s one of the oldest of the city.
The Squero is the typical shipyard and the name probably comes from the Venetian dialect “squara”, which means, “square”, a construction instrument used by the craftsmen to build the gondola properly (and to help in picking the right piece of wood for the right purpose). The place has the typical shape of a country house - which is weird for Venice’s personality - due to the creativity of the “Squeraroli”, the workers.
Round the back of the “Squero”, a board that tilts towards the canal for the ships’ launch, defines the space. In the anterior part of the “Squero”, there is a hut with a gable roof that is also a working area.
When Venice was a Republic, the Squeri (shipyards) were very common in the city, with most being found in the Castello neighborhood, and in the area where Dorsoduro and Giudecca neighborhood are now.
Today, with the diminishing use of rows ships, now common only for sportive use or for tourists wanting to explore the waterways, and with the new materials of constructions available, the activity of the Squeri is becoming increasingly rare.
Watching closely the different phases of construction I discover things I would have never thought. Every gondola is created using 280 different pieces, and is built with different kinds of woods. The construction of a whole one requires an entire year. Every gondola is asymmetric so that – because you row only from one side – it is balanced in the end, which is actually a characteristic that introduced relatively recent and less present in the XIX Century.
I finally understand the purpose of the “big steel” at the point of the gondola, which is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also built to balance the boat out.
Together with the touristic role, today the other function of the gondola is to transport people from one bank of the Canal Grande to another, and for this the Gondoloni are used, guided by two rowers, one at the stern and the other at the prow, so I take advantage of them to take a tour without looking like a tourist in my own city.