You can't picture Venice without gondolas. What makes a gondola so special? It is the only boat in the world that can be steered with easiness by just one person, with one oar, even if it is 11 meters long and weighs over 600 kilograms. There are also other elements that make it unique. First of all its shape: it is asymmetrical, that is to say its left side is slightly larger than the right side. The keel then is also bent to the right, so that the gondola floats tilted on the right side. That allows the counterbalancing of the push of the only oar. Second, the materials it is made of. The gondola is made of 280 parts and 8 different kinds of wood are used to build it.
There is only one metal element: the “fero” (iron) made of six teeth, The “fero” located at the front is shaped like an S to imitate the winding of the Canal Grande, while the lunette, represents the Bridge of Rialto and the six teeth symbolize the six sentieri into which Venice is divided. The purpose of the fero is to protect the bow from possible collisions.
The gondolas we see today are the final result of a long process of evolution. The first gondolas appeared in 1094 following a decree in which the Doge asked the residents of an island South of Venice to provide a “gondulam”. Originally the gondolas looked very different: they were shorter, larger, not as slender, and not asymmetrical. It was only during the 1800s that a slight asymmetry was introduced. Currently gondolas are open boats but at the beginning of the 1900s they used to have a removable cabin called fèlze, that was used to protect the passengers in winter time. Now it is not used anymore because it mainly blocks the tourists' view. The only aspect of the boat that always remained the same is the characteristic black color of the hull. There are now approximately 500 gondolas that are active in Venice and they are used exclusively for tourists, but in the year 1580 there were over 10.000!