Squero and Gondola, Symbols of Venice, Italian Youth Committee UNESCO

Venetian craftsmanship, research and journeys through history. The Squero of San Trovaso is located in Sestiere Dorsoduro and is one of the few squeri still operating in Venice. It lies between Fondamenta Bonlini and Fondamenta Le Nani, opposite the Church of San Trovaso, a name that apparently derives from a Venetian contraction of Gervasius and Protasius. Some say it dates back to before the seventeenth century. Inside, you can visit the chapel of the “squeraroli” (“boat builders”), where there is a “dedication” to the art of boat building because it belonged to the “small school of boat builders”.

Squero may derive from “squara”, indicating a team of people who work together to build a boat, or could be from the Venetian word “squara”, i.e. a “square”, a tool used by shipwrights.

The gondola is a traditional, flat-bottomed Venetian rowing boat, well suited to the conditions of the Venetian lagoon. It is similar to a canoe, except it is narrower. It is propelled by a gondolier, who uses a rowing oar, which is not fastened to the hull, in a sculling manner and acts as the rudder.

For centuries, the gondola was the chief means of transportation and most common watercraft within Venice. In modern times, the iconic boats still do have a role in public transport in the city, serving as traghetti small (ferries) over the Grand Canal operated by two oarsmen.

Today’s gondola is 35.5 feet long and 4.5 feet wide with a weight of 1,500 lbs (700 kg). They are made of 280 hand-made pieces using eight types of wood (lime, oak, mahogany, walnut, cherry, fir, larch and elm). The process takes about two months; in 2013, the cost of a gondola was about 38,000 euros. The oar or rèmo is held in an oarlock known as a fórcola. The forcola is of a complicated shape, allowing several positions of the oar for slow forward rowing, powerful forward rowing, turning, slowing down, rowing backwards, and stopping. The ornament on the front of the boat is called the fèrro (meaning iron) and can be made from brass, stainless steel, or aluminium. It serves as decoration and as counterweight for the gondolier standing near the stern.

Every detail of the gondola has its own symbolism. The iron prow-head of the gondola, called “fero da prorà” or “dol fin”, is needed to balance the weight of the gondolier at the stern and has an “S” shape symbolic of the twists in the Canal Grande. Under the main blade there is a kind of comb with six teeth or prongs (“rebbi”) pointing forward standing for the six districts or “sestieri” of Venice. A kind of tooth juts out backwards toward the centre of the gondola symbolises the island of Giudecca. The curved top signifies the Doge’s cap. The semi-circular break between the curved top and the six teeth is said to represent the Rialto Bridge. Sometimes three friezes can be seen in-between the six prongs, indicating the three main islands of the city: Murano, Burano and Torcello.

The gondola is also one of the vessels typically used in both ceremonial and competitive regattas, rowing races held amongst gondoliers using the technique of Voga alla Veneta.

The setting around it is reminiscent of a mountain context and is unusual for Venice.
The wooden buildings at either end are similar to typical mountain houses.

The small door is the only access by land to the Squero of San Trovaso. This arouses great interest among the flocks of tourists who enter here, intrigued by the story of the squero.

As it was long ago, the workshop for the construction of gondolas. Today, for various reasons, only 1 or 2 gondolas are built ex-novo each year. Much of the work done nowadays is for maintenance.

Squero San Trovaso – The importance of Wood
Months of work and eight different types of wood. This is the reason: most of the craftsmen and the timber came from Cadore, from where the logs were floated along the River Piave.

The Venetian squero is a typical boatyard for the construction of Venetian rowing boats.There are numerous etymological interpretations of the name “squero”.

Tourists enjoy a close-up view thanks to the boats that pass along the Rio de San Trovaso and the Rio del Ognissanti.

An artist paints a picture of the Squero, treasured because it still preserves an age-old tradition.

The wooden structure known as a “cantiér” is the basis of the construction. It is a reverse profile of the keel. The centre line axis, which is not a straight but curved, determines the asymmetrical structure of the gondola.

Reflective glossy paint in the foreground of the gondola. The view point shows the main tools of the squeraiolo (boatbuilder).

Gondolas undergo frequent maintenance as they are exposed to the weather and to prolonged contact with water. These are the result of inserts and reconstruction of damaged parts.

Brackets for gluing wooden inserts used in the various stages of repair.

A historic glimpse of the repair workshop .Just like before… everything is still done with skilled craftsmanship. Deteriorated parts are removed manually, with chisels. Work station for painting and decorating

The work of squeraioli, including the lifting and moving of the boats, is done without winches, using only the sheer strength of their arms.

The “féro da prorà” (“iron prow head”), also known as the “pettine” (“comb”).
Over the centuries, it has undergone various evolutions. In the beginning, it did not have the 6 blades, and was known as a “dolfin” (“dolphin”) due to its sinuous form.

Originally a simple reinforcement, it became a sign of economic status. In the beginning, the teeth were the heads of the nails used to fix it, and were later enhanced to become an indispensable ornament

Historical Gondolas
A brief review of some historical examples of gondolas from the late 19th century Aristocrats sensitive to frost and prying eyes could pass unobserved by remaining inside the awnings, which were usually made of wood or fine fabrics.

This could be placed on the gondola as a shelter for the passengers, providing intimacy during short trips or romantic crossings. A sign of nobility, the most opulent gondolas were fitted with comfortable leather seats.

The Peggy Guggenheim Gondola. Its details and rich ornaments have made this boat one of the most famous in the world. The lion, symbol of Venice and the Most Serene Republic, was often depicted to display the power of Venetian domination.

The Gondola, symbol of Venice. Eleven metres in length and over 600 kg in weight, composed of 280 different pieces and requiring 500 hours to build. It is an art that has endured for over two centuries.