Gondolas, poppets and oars
Each type of craft used to get built
taking into account the need imposed by the structure of canals and their
twisting and turnings, together with the dangers of shallow water.
The absence of keel and rudder made the boats, from the flat bottom, able to be manoeuvred by the means of only one oar, by a boatman that stands up aft.
This characteristic use of an oar belongs to so-called “voga alla veneta” (Venetian style rowing).
This type of rowing is peculiar in all the Venetian boats, that can boast of having a very unique type of poppet called “forcola” (crutch) in Venetian.
A “crutch” is made of one quarter of wood trunk, usually walnut, of about 60 cm in diameter.
It’s got a very complex shape that varies depending on body characteristics and the rowing style of each rower.
And it’s only by fully making use if its shape that a gondolier, masterly manoeuvring the oar, manages to imprint any direction of motion to the gondola. The poppets get completely hand-built, carving renowned woods for their elasticity, with the help of tools that only expert artisans are capable of using.
They get used every day, by both the
lovers of Venetian style rowing and as objects of typical Venetian handicraft
to show off as a work of art.
One poppet is actually exposed in New York in Metropolitan Museum! B
uilders of poppets are called “remeri” (oar-men) and in addition to these they also build oars, that Serenissima continued to request in huge quantities.
There are by now very few in Venice who continue the tradition of this famous skill, amongst these: F. Furlanetto, S. Pastor and P. Brandolisio.
The greatness of Venice and its power have always been indissolubly linked to its maritime gift, therefore to the production of a considerable number of crafts that used to be accomplished in a core place for this activity; the Arsenal.
The Arsenal occupied a large area of
Castello, and gave work to thousands of workers up to relatively recent times.
In any case, there existed other small boatyards where boats used to be constructed; such yards were and still are called “squeri”.
In squeri there were the
‘masters of axe’ and the secrets of crafting wood and lustre of colours, of
painting and decorative carving were handed down from father to son.
In the construction of gondolas, particularly, 8 types of excellent wood get used: oak, cherry, larch, lime, walnut, mahogany and elm.
Each one of these types of woods gets utilised for accomplishment of specific boat components, hand-carved using traditional tools: an axe, a plane, a saw and a hammer.
The bilges of wooden panels are obtained naturally dampening and warming up the wood using fire.
The line of the aft boat gets designed taking into account the owner’s weight and Veneto foot is still used for measures, being most suitable for the operation.
A gondola has a curious shape of half moon, because only a small part of its hull rests on the water with the purpose of reducing friction.
It’s inclined on the right-hand side with regards to the surface of the water and gets maintained in equilibrium by an oar on the poppet and thanks to a gondolier who, from the other side, manages to manoeuvre it very skilfully.
Ancient gondolas used to be supplied
with an arched covering, called “felze” (cabin) and decorated with precious
fabrics and rugs.
In order to avoid showing off of richness, the judges assigned the use of only one type of fabric for “felze”: a black woollen cloth called “rascia”.
The “squeraroli” (gondola makers) were
part of the School of Art and Crafts and their seat was near the church of S.
Trovaso, where still today there can be found one squero.
At present, only few squeri have remained in activity: Tramontin, Coop. of S. Trovaso, in Dorsoduro, Crea and Dei Rossi on Giudecca.