The Life of a Gondolier

When many people come to Venice and negotiate their first gondola ride, they think they’re shelling out a small fortune while the gondolier is making easy money.

Think again.

Becoming a gondolier is no easy feat.

I used to think the whole thing about a taxi driver in NYC having to pay a hefty sum to buy a yellow cab medallion was ridiculous. I believe a wannabe gondolier has more of an uphill climb.

Used to be that a gondolier license had to pass from father to son.

Or to another male family member IF there was no son. Yep, all-in-the-family was the name of the game.

Now the process is even harder.

These days you have to belong to a 1000-year-old Gondolier’s Guild. And that comes only after 400 hours of training under the sponsorship and tutelage of an existing member, and after passing a stringent exam. A potential gondolier must demonstrate strength and agility of handling the unique boat, and a thorough understanding of the maze of canals and geography of Venice. Add to that a command of languages, and a thorough knowledge of Venice’s history and culture.

Then there’s the whole bit about staking out a spot.

I’m not an expert on this but, from what I understand, a new gondolier can’t just hang out his shingle anywhere and then commence to rake in the dough. As you would expect, some areas are better hot spots for a steady stream of ready-and-willing tourists. I’m curious to learn more about the ins and outs of route negotiations amongst the gondoliers.

Gondoliers make decent money.

Yep, in the neighborhood of $150,000 each year. But they work hard. Imagine all that’s required to cater to the desires of diverse tourists. Then there’s the physical strength required to navigate some pretty significant traffic on the canals of Venice. And, oh yeah, the maintenance required to keep one’s boat in top-notch condition.

Finally, Venice welcomed its first female into the historically all-male gondolier ranks.

This happened in 2010. And even this woman’s father was dubious as to whether she was fit to assume the role. I’m not sure if additional women have joined this boys’ club. You can be sure I’ll be keeping my eyes open for new developments.

Maybe I’ll even be able to track down the first female gondolier and capture her at work. If so, I’ll be sure to share.

For now, I hope you enjoy these snippets of gondolier life. Consider this post an appetizer for a more in-depth story to come––hopefully, in the near future.

 

By |2019-01-19T22:02:47+00:00September 12th, 2017|A Romance with Venice, Exploring the Veneto, Photography Posts|16 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!

16 Comments

  1. Tom October 2, 2017 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Awesome story Jed. The gondolier we hired when in Venice this past June gave us a little education on how hard he and other gondoliers had to work, study, and practice to become one. He also proudly told us about the first female gondelier too.

    • Jed October 3, 2017 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Tom. That’s so cool you got a personal “class” about the life of a gondolier!

  2. Cindy O'Hara September 14, 2017 at 5:12 am - Reply

    Makes me want to return to Venice pronto and check it all out myself! Lovely photos Jed.
    Cindy xo

    • Jed September 16, 2017 at 3:33 pm - Reply

      Please do, and let us know. We’d love to see you guys! xoxox

  3. Gaye HART September 13, 2017 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    I’ll be there a the end of the month and if I see the female gondolier I’ll let you know where she is based.

    • Jed September 16, 2017 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks! Any info you can provide so I can find her and do a photo essay would be awesome!

  4. Diane Alexander September 13, 2017 at 1:51 am - Reply

    Really interesting . I never new the histry behind gondoliers

    • Jed September 13, 2017 at 7:32 am - Reply

      Glad you like, Diane. More to come – hopefully soon!

  5. Joee Balestrieri September 13, 2017 at 12:11 am - Reply

    Salve Jed! Questo e’ ottimo! Lo adoro! I took 2 gondola rides in Venice last year. When asked what my favorite thing was about Venice the gondola and the gondoliers are the first thing that pops into my head!

    • Jed September 13, 2017 at 7:33 am - Reply

      Salve Joee! Always great to hear from you! Maybe one day I’ll be able to do an in depth story on one or two gondoliers in particular!

  6. Nancy September 12, 2017 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    Nicely done, Jed. I look forward to more thoughts and images. Do hope you find the woman who “paddled” into this world.

    • Jed September 13, 2017 at 7:35 am - Reply

      Thanks, Nancy! I’m hoping my Venice connections will lead me to a more in-depth story about life as a gondolier. Hope all is well!

  7. Diane September 12, 2017 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    I am heading to Venice next week. I’ll keep my eyes open for the lady in the ranks. Good for her!!!

    Thanks for the insight and beautiful photos. Wonderful!!

    Diane

    • Jed September 13, 2017 at 7:25 am - Reply

      Glad you like, Diane!

  8. Nancy September 12, 2017 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    Super interesting! Thanks and I hope you can track down the lady gondoliers.

    • Jed September 12, 2017 at 5:01 pm - Reply

      I’ll do my best!!!

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