Venetian Boats – Traditions and Culture

Paolo Brandolisio (oarmaker) in his workshop

Boats are an essential part of Venetian traditions

Boats are bound to be an essential part of Venetian culture and traditions. Venice is after all a city built on water. Many of these traditions are still alive.

The gondolas are by far the most visible part of this culture, but there are many other types of traditional boats around, each with innumerable variations.

The most common traditional boats seen around the city and the lagoon of Venice are sandoli and sanpierote.

The sandolo is actually an entire family of boats. The smallest are only about 5.5-6m long, and the largest as long as a gondola, at 11m. They share a low profile, which makes them less susceptible to the wind, and they saw use for a wide variety of purposes, from fishing, transportation of goods and persons to hunting and leisure.

The sampierota is a descendent of the old fishing boats from San Pietro in Volta, on the Pellestrina island. It’s a distant cousin of the sandolo, but wider, rounder and with an almost vertical bow mirror. This last characteristic saved it from oblivion, because it is easily adaptable to an outboard engine, which is awkward on a sandolo.

Photo of the founder Domenico Tramontin and other memorabilia on the wall of the squero Tramontin

The flanks of a gondola are made of oak planks which have to be bend into shape using heat and water

Every single piece of a gondola is unique and make individually by hand

The Venetian Boats tour

The Venetian boats tours is a walking tour around Venice, where we talk about boats, rowing techniques, crafts, traditions and Venetian culture.

During the tour we’ll visit one of the remaining Venetian oar makers in the city. In the past Venice boasted of hundreds of remeri, but now only three are still working: Saverio, Paolo and Piero.

We’ll also visit a squero, a traditional shipyards. Venice still has a handful of squeri, where they build gondolas and other traditional boats. A few are in Venice proper, others on the Giudecca or on other islands.

Many other crafts are associated with traditional boats, especially the gondola which is the undisputed queen. Not all are present in the city any more, such as the black smiths making the ferro and riccio on the front and back of the gondolas. Other are still around, though, such as the intagliadori (wood carvings) and doradori (who applies gold leaf to parts of a gondola).

Paolo Brandolisio (oarmaker) in his workshop

Piero Dri (oarmaker) at work in his workshop

Oarmake (remer) Savario Pastor chatting in his workshop during a break.

Prices and Booking

The Venetian Boats walking tour can be one hour, or two or three hours. The more time we spend together, the more we’ll see and explore.

The price is €100 for the first hour, and €60 for each additional hour.

Groups can be from one to six persons, so everybody can see and hear everything. Children are very welcome, and I’ll try to adapt the tour to the best of my ability.

The visits to shipyards, oar makers and others are usually only possible on working days, and during working hours.