Venice is a watery wonderland of 177 canals, and there’s no better way to explore this romantic labyrinth than on an iconic gondola ride. On one hand it’s a pricey tourist cliché, but it’s also a classic time-honored journey everyone should experience at least once when visiting this incomparable city. Don’t consider it practical water-taxi transportation to get you from A to B. This is purely a sight-seeing joy ride, and it’s not to be missed. Most of the estimated 15 million visitors who flock to historic Venice each year can’t resist the tradition. Here’s the little known backstory on these elegant vessels to sweeten your ride, plus some tips on how to get the most out of your gondola journey.
1. Gondolas Have Their Roots in Ancient History
Graceful gondolas have been used to get around this Adriatic city for more than 10 centuries, the earliest recorded use dating back to 1094. They were once the main form of transportation around the Venetian canals. Towards the end of the 16th century there were an estimated 10,000 gondolas creating aquatic traffic jams throughout the city. Today, however, there are only about 425 gondolas in Venice.
2. That Gondolier Is Licensed to Row
It’s not easy to become a professional gondolier, so when you climb on board you will always be getting the real deal. It takes over 400 hours of training and apprenticeship to master the rowing, turning, slowing down, backstroke, and necessary stopping manoeuvres. Standing at the back of the boat, compensating for choppy waves, dodging speedboat traffic, snaking through narrow canals, limboing under bridges, kicking off walls – it all takes skill and balance. Singing is a bonus asset that not all gondoliers possess (ask first if you expect a serenade). Gondoliers have to pass a rigorous exam on Venetian history and landmarks and there are foreign language requirements too. It’s a noble profession that has been passed down from generation to generation and only 3 to 4 new gondolier licenses are granted annually.