Typically when I think about Venice, I imagine a romantic sunset ride in a gondola with a man rowing and singing Luciano Pavarotti in his masculine operatic voice: Te voglio bene assaie ma tanto tanto bene sai (I love you very much very very much, you know).
This picture is one the most iconic of Venice attractions. Each year hundreds of couples get engaged while sailing through these beautiful canal streets. But there is so much more to the gondola than simply romance and opera. The gondola itself is a form of art, passed down from generation to generation.
The first gondola on record was built in 628AD. Originally it had 12 oars (and matching Italian oarsmen) and cabins aboard. Over time, it has evolved to match the narrowing of the canal streets of Venice. Present day, each gondola you see has one oarsman with one long oar. These ships are built in one of three original shipyards. The gondola is composed of exactly 280 pieces with three distinct features: the curly tail, a pair of seahorses, and a multi-pronged prow. The iron prow is actually a miniature map of Venice. Its six strips (pettini) represent the six quarters (sestien) of Venice. The double S signifies the Grand Canal, and at the top is a dogal horn and a lunette representing the Rialto Bridge.
So one could say that each and every gondola that is manufactured in these ancient shipyards is a mini Venice, carrying on the traditions and history with every Pavarotti-filled romantic venture down those famous canal streets.
Next: The Bridge of Sighs