While the most celebrated craft navigating the canals of Venice and the surrounding lagoon is the gondola, we Venetians do use many others to carry people and transport goods. The first type includes boats like batele, balotine or gondolin da fresco, barchete, cofani, gondoloni, mascarete, pupparin, sanpierote, sandoli, topi and tope. Awestruck? It’s just the tip of the iceberg. For goods, we use bateloni, bragozzi, burchi, caorline, peate, and again topi and tope. These are traditional boats but modern crafts navigate the waters as well, not to mention all other types of boats used for regattas and parades. Today you can experience these traditions firsthand among the squeri (shipyards) still operating in Venice, among them, the Squero San Trovaso.
Bigger ship vessels in Venice were built in the Arsenale – the complex of former shipyards and armories that operated at full capacity until the fall of the Venetian Republic in the late 18th century – while the smaller boats are still built and repaired in lesser shipyards scattered around the city. These shipyards are called squeri, a word in the Venice dialect probably originating from squadra – that in Italian means both a group of people and the set square, the drawing tool – or the Greek ἐσχαρεών – the fireplace. Today, of the six squeri still operating in Venice, the one you’re mostly likely to chance upon would be the one near the church of San Trovaso, not far from Zattere and Accademia, and which dates back to the 17th century. Looking at it from the opposite bank, you can watch boats, mainly gondolas, lying on their sides waiting for some tender loving care. The workers do their job in the open air but there is also an indoor section that can be visited on request. The building looks like a mountain house, an absolutely unique occurrence in Venice whose rationale may lie in the fact that the carpenters came from Cadore, a mountain area in the north of Veneto. That was also the land that supplied Venice with the timber necessary to build houses and boats.
If you fancy owning a gondola, the Squero di San Trovaso can build one for you. You have to be patient, though, because its construction takes almost a year and involves the hewing of about 300 pieces of eight different types of wood. Due to its asymmetrical shape the gondolier steers it with one long oar leaning on a peculiar oarlock called forcola. The design and making of this single piece requires specific craftsmanship that today is best represented by the exceptional work of Saverio Pastor.
Save time and money getting where you need to go in Venice easily, with in-person help when you need it from a Local using the Prontopia app. We hope to welcome you to Venice very soon.
Photo Credit: Gondolas by Didier Descouens