What Is a Gondola Driver Called?

gondolier image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from Fotolia.com

The distinctive shape of a gondola is immediately recognisable as a symbol of Venice, and the same can be said of the people who pilot them. The people who drive gondolas are called "gondoliers."

The Gondola

Gondolas have a unique, flat-bottomed shape that allows them to float in very shallow water. Unlike most boats, gondolas are not symmetrical: rather, the keel curves to the right. This asymmetry pushes the gondola to the right to counteract the force of the gondolier's oar, which pushes the gondola to the left.

The Gondolier

The profession of the gondolier has a long history, and they have become part of the mythology of Venice. One of the stories Venetians tell is that all gondoliers are born with webbed feet, as a symbol of their affinity for water. While this is only a popular bit of folklore, gondoliers do rely on rowing techniques and a knowledge of Venice's waterways that are passed down from father to son.

Rowing Techniques

Gondoliers use a highly efficient rowing style known as "voga alla veneziana". A gondolier uses a single oar, which would push the boat in a circle if an ordinary rowing stroke was used. Therefore, the blade is kept in the water as it is drawn back to its starting position after the initial push. This allows the blade to act as a sort of rudder, and is used to correct the direction of the boat. Gondoliers row standing upright, which allows them to see obstacles easily.

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