Italians (at least many of them), may already know that Venice… actually floats! Unlike Amsterdam or Saint Petersburg, it is not just furrowed by canals, bordered by roads and pavements. In Venice, canals are the only available communication route, bearing in mind that part of the city extends over a handful of beautiful islands that are scattered across the Lagoon.
For this reason, the lagoon city can only be crossed on foot or by boat. Cars, motorbikes, bicycles and even roller skates are strictly forbidden. But this is not all. At times Venice may find itself… under water! The acqua alta phenomenon – the result of heavy rainfall and high tides – can cause the water level to rise by as much as a meter, forcing everyone to walk on raised plank walkways, or don rain boots (many shops, including tobacconists, sell disposable ones) in order to cross the city’s flooded calli, campielli and salizade. Calli, campielli and salizade are Venetian words used to identify streets, squares and alleys while sestieri is the local word indicating the six districts the city is divided into: San Marco, Dorsoduro, Cannaregio, Santa Croce, San Polo and Castello. This division dates back to the 12th century and also includes areas such as La Giudecca, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore (San Marco) and the Island of San Michele, home to the city’s cemetery (Castello).
Street numbers in each sestiere start from 1 and often reach four figures, for example, one of the last numbers of the sestiere of Castello is 7,000.
You need to learn them if you want to find your way through the spectacular, maze-like historic centre.
Venice also has its own network of public… and private transportation: its vaporetti, real waterbuses, are the most popular craft used by locals, which is why they are often very crowded during peak hours. These engine-powered water taxis are able to whiz across the lagoon in a heartbeat, but for those who prefer a unique, incredibly romantic experience, the famous, distinctive gondola is an absolute must.
This elegant, black, one-oared rowing boat drifts gently across the water, while its gondolier sings an entire repertoire of traditional Venetian folk songs. It goes without saying that the waters of the canals are not suitable for swimming, and their banks are often slippery. Be careful not to be so focused on your selfie stick that you walk into a canal because you might be in for some rather unpleasant surprises!
Gondolas, a tourist’s dream!
A hallmark symbol of Venice, who has never dreamt of riding on one of these marvels of craftsmanship, whose charms have withstood the test of time?
The components (approximately 280) of these extraordinary craft still bear their almost fairytale-like names of the past: ‘sankone, ‘solarai’ and ‘maistre’… To name but a few.
Tradition has it that each gondolier has his own gondola, custom-made according to his weight and height.
Among the most ancient boatyards (or ‘squeri’), the most remarkable is perhaps that of Domenico Tramontin and Sons. Established in 1884, it was the supplier to the House of Savoy, the Prefecture and the Commune of Venice.
An interesting feature that you are bound to notice on a gondolier’s uniform is the logo. Its most recent version was created by the Style Department of Duca d’Aosta, a shop established in 1902 in the Rialto neighbourhood by Emilio Ceccato.
The logo features St. Mark as the Winged Lion, holding an open book, a symbol of peace and strength, framed by two ‘ferri’ – the traditional iron gondola prow ornaments (also known in Venetian as ‘fero da prova’ or ‘dolfin’).
Bringing one home as a keepsake is neither easy (nor cheap!), but you can avoid this by purchasing a souvenir created ad hoc. Where? At Emilio Ceccato’s clothing and accessory store, the official supplier and technical sponsor of the Associazione Gondolieri di Venezia (The Gondolier’s Association of Venice) in San Polo.