Learn how to steer a gondola in Venice
If you’re going to Venice soon, you’re bound to have thought of taking a gondola ride. But you might not have thought of steering the gondola yourself!
The skills you need to be a gondolier are almost something you have in your blood. In fact, until the 1980s, the profession was passed exclusively from father to son. Since the council changed the regulations, you can now become a gondolier by taking some fairly tough exams.
First you have to pass the entrance exam to the Gondolier School and then the exam at the end of the course. Every year only four or five candidates are selected and are awarded the coveted gondolier’s licence.
Today, there are just over 400 gondolas in the whole of Venice. Learning how to manoeuvre an 11 m long, 600 kg gondola is no easy job and certainly not one that can be done by just anyone. In addition to manoeuvring it (for which you have to be fit), you also need to speak three languages and know the history of Venice inside out.
If your bucket list includes standing proudly in charge of a gondola in a striped shirt while singing O sole mio along the canals of Venice, don’t worry, you don’t need to pass all the official exams…
In Venice there are several agencies that give you the chance to become a gondolier for a few hours, including Art Viva and Row Venice. During the class, you’ll learn the keys to using the typical long oar as you enjoy the breathtaking views of the city from the water and hear the fascinating stories of gondoliers’ lives.
Normally these activities are organised in groups of two to six people, plus an instructor who will teach you to make your way around the canals like a true expert. The class starts on dry land, where the instructor will teach you how to keep your balance and use the oar. The real challenge comes when you take to the water to try your hand as a gondolier for real.
It might be hard at first, but you’ll soon get a grasp of the basics to handle the oar like a professional. If you decide it’s not for you, you can always sit back and enjoy the beautiful views as a passenger!
If you want to learn more interesting facts about gondolas in Venice, take a look at this other post.