Have you ever seen a movie set in Venice, Italy? If so, you were probably amazed by the beautiful scenery. You might also have been curious about the fact that many “streets” in Venice are actually made of water.

Those “streets” are called canals, and they’re navigated by small boats. One type of popular boat that tourists like to ride in to see the sights is called a gondola.

The gondola is a Venetian (that means “from Venice”) flat-bottomed boat that has been a traditional part of navigating the city’s canals for hundreds of years. Gondola drivers — called gondoliers — power the boats by hand, using long oars to row the boats along the canals.

Although gondolas were once the primary means of transportation around Venice, they are mainly used to transport tourists today. They still play an important role as traghetti — ferries — over the Grand Canal.

The earliest gondolas featured a felze, which was a small cabin that would protect riders from the weather. The windows of the cabin could be closed with louvered shutters that gave rise to the “Venetian blinds” that cover the windows of many homes.

Today’s gondolas are open to the air, so that tourists can have an unrestricted view of the scenery. Pursuant to law, gondolas must also be painted black.

At the height of their popularity, there were about 10,000 gondolas in Venice. That number has plummeted to less than 500 gondolas in active service to tourists today.

Gondolas usually have an ornament on the front of the boat. Called the fèrro — meaning “iron” — it can be made of brass, stainless steel or aluminum. In addition to being decorative, it also serves to balance the boat, since the gondolier stands in the back of the boat.

Speaking of gondoliers, not just anyone can be one! A limited number of licenses are issued and only to those who have had extensive training and taken a tough exam on Venetian history. In addition to being able to row a gondola, gondoliers must possess foreign language skills and be able to share the history of Venice with tourists.

Gondolas aren’t just boats, though. If you’ve ever been to a ski resort, you may have ridden in a gondola to the top of a mountain. These aerial lifts — also called cable cars — bear no resemblance to Venetian gondola boats, but they have borrowed the name, possibly because of their use to ferry tourists to new heights.

76 Join the Discussion

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    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Curiosity! We are glad you learned something new about those cool gondolas in Venice! Did you know that the term “pursuant to” means “in accordance with”? Therefore, when something is “pursuant to law”, it means “in accordance with the law”– so the law mandates that gondolas are painted black! Can you believe it? We bet they all look uniform in the water– and they are easy to spot by tourists!

      Since the majority of gondolas are now filled with tourists, Venice decreased the number of gondolas available in the city. Picture this: the number of people who live in the city of Venice is greater than the number of tourists who visit the city each week. Therefore, there are hardly ever empty gondolas, and the people who live in Venice choose to take the ferry if they need to cross the canals.

      Great WONDERing today! :)

  1. We think it would be fun to ride on a gondola. They look small but long.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about drums, wood, or a rug.

    • Hello to our WONDERful friends in Ms. Bayko’s class!! We think a gondola ride would be a very cool way to see the city of Venice! They certainly are shaped differently than other boats we’ve seen– but they fit in the narrow canals so well! We can’t wait to Wonder with you tomorrow… we hope you “slide” on over to Wonderopolis again! :)

    • Oooh, great guesses, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Rise’s class! We can’t wait to find out what tomorrow will bring… but we think you’re on the right track! Nice work! :)

  2. We really liked reading about the gondolas. Hunter S. likes the style of the boats. Mrs. Rise loved the music. This our first time here.

    • WOHOO, we are excited to Wonder about gondolas with you today! We hope you are having a great time WONDERing with us– there is so much to discover! We are so happy you shared your comments about the shape of the boats, and the Venetian music in the video! As they say in Italy, “buona giornata!” (Translation: Have a good day!) :)

  3. I love learning about boats well they’re not really boats and I like every wonder. Rylie from Mrs. Phillips’ wonderful class.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Rylie, we are glad that you shared your comment today! We think learning about different types of boats, like the gondola, is a very fun way to Wonder! Can you imagine taking a boat instead of a bus, car or bicycle to school each day? We think it would be very fun, and something to get used to! We hope your day is WONDERful! :)

  4. Mrs. Ski’s AM class in Ohio thinks tomorrow’s wonder will be either a pinata, a drum, or a chicken. (Drum stick…it’s a stretch we know.)

    • HOORAY! Our Wonder Friends from Mrs. Ski’s AM class is here today! We really like your guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder… we hope you “slide” on over to Wonderopolis to see if you’re correct! We hope you have a SUPER day in Ohio, Wonder Friends! :)

    • Great job WONDERing, Bryleigh! We are very excited you shared your comment with us today– we bet some other Wonder Friends were thinking the same thing! :)

      It’s actually part of the law in Italy to paint the gondolas black. A very long time ago, there was a law that limited elaborate and ornate decorations from certain objects, including gondolas. To this day, gondolas are uniform with a simple black color. :)

    • Hello, Wonder Friends in Mrs. White’s class– we are excited that you’re here today! Also, we LOVE your Wonder about gondolas (in Italian, the plural of gondola is “gondole”)!

      There are people, called gondoliers, who steer the boat for those riding in it. There is one gondolier who rows with a very large oar– he or she actually STANDS at the back of the boat. Each gondola is fitted to the gondolier, and the gondolier keeps the boat balanced by shifting his or her body and using the oar! Isn’t that a cool way to get around?! :)

    • How right you are, James– nice work! We Wonder if you have ever seen a gondola, or have imagined what it would be like to ride in one? We hope you have a SUPER day– thanks for sharing your comment! :)

    • Hi there, Michael, thanks for sharing your comment today! We Wonder if you read our Wonder about gondolas today– it’s pretty interesting! Can you imagine traveling by boat to get to the park, school or your friend’s house? We bet it would take some getting used to, but it sounds like a fun way to travel!

      We appreciate your comment and are glad that you’re WONDERing with us today! :)

    • Great Wonder, Christie Bee! Gondolas are made of wood, so they can deteriorate over time or become unfit for transporting people around the city of Venice. Also, Venetians (people who live in Venice) began to take the ferry more often than gondolas. Therefore, the number of boats needed decreased; today mostly tourists enjoy the view of Venice from a gondola! :)

    • Hi there RAM, we’re glad you’re here today, Wonder Friend! We think it would be cool if the gondola sang, but usually the person rowing the boat, called the “gondolier” is the one singing. :)

      The cost of a gondola ride depends on the number of people riding in the boat, as well as the time of day. Usually, the price is higher if there are more people (usually up to six people) and it’s later in the day. In late afternoon, the sun sets over the city, and in the evening the moonlight reflects off the water. These parts of the day are usually the most popular, and more costly, times to ride in a gondola. Also, in Italy, you would pay in a euro, which is similar to the American dollar. The symbol for euro is €, just like the dollar’s symbol is $. :)

    • Grazie, Erin! (That means “Thank you Erin” in Italian!) We are glad you are WONDERing about the gondola today! Can you imagine traveling to and from school by boat? It would be a pretty fun way to get around! :)

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend “F”! We think you’re doing a great job of spelling– everyone has trouble with some words, but with practice and patience, you will be a SUPER speller! Thanks for commenting today! :)

  5. Hey Wonderopolis! I really liked the video today. Why do Gondalas have to be painted black though? Please respond.
    Your Wondering Friend

    • Hey there, Torhay! We are glad you enjoyed today’s Wonder! The gondola is an interesting mode of transportation to Wonder about… they even have a law in Italy that requires all gondolas to be painted black! There is a law, from a very long time ago, that was created to keep certain things from becoming too elaborate and over-the-top. The gondola must be painted a simple black– so now they are all uniform! Thanks for joining the fun, Wonder Friend Tori! Or… if we were in Italy, we would say Grazie, amica! :)

    • We LOVE your enthusiasm, Keenpup! We are glad you liked learning about these cool, narrow boats called gondolas! In Italian, the plural of “gondola” is actually “gondole” (pronounced: gon-do-lay)! We are glad you shared your comment with us today, Wonder Friend! :)

  6. Hi wonderopolis- I was just thinking. what if you had a gondola in venice that WASN’T painted black? What would the penalty be for that? Is it a serious crime or something?

    • That’s a great Wonder, Abbey! We aren’t certain about how the laws are enforced, but we do know that the gondolier’s business is directly tied to the gondola they row. Therefore, if they do not have a boat to steer, they will not have a way to transport tourists around the city, and therefore they cannot make money. We bet the gondoliers take pride in their jobs, especially since they have to work so hard to be licensed! We Wonder if you can find out any more information about these laws! We’d love to see what you find! Sharing Wonder is part of the fun! :)

    • We love when Wonder Friends agree on a cool Wonder! Thanks for sharing your comment, Chubby Monkey! We hope you have a SUPER day! :)

    • How fun, we are glad you’re here, Emily! We are super excited that you shared your guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder! We will see you soon… can’t wait! :)

  7. I have the answer to your question it’s an Italian boat it’s how they get across the waters without drowning, is that correct?

    • Great work, Lily! You sure are right about the Italian boat– the gondola is a narrow, long boat that is rowed by one person, called a gondolier. Another way to travel around Venice is to take the ferry, which many local Venetians do in order to get to work, school or a friend’s house! We hope you have a SUPER day filled with lots of WONDERing! :)

    • Hi there, Steven, we’re glad you’re visiting Wonderopolis today! We always have a new Wonder each day– today’s is “What Is a Gondola?” Also, in the “Wonder What’s Next” section, you can view a clue for tomorrow’s Wonder. We hope you will join us again as we use our imaginations! :)

  8. I loved this article. I thought it was amazing that in this town they travel in boats instead of cars. I think an advantage of having boats can be less air pollution. A disadvantage might be that it would take longer to get were you need to go. I think it would be nice to go through the water in Italy. I can’t wait til tomorrow’s wonder. I think it is going to be about pinatas.

    • You’ve done a SUPER job today, Jacob L! We think you did a WONDERful job of making a pro/con list of traveling by water in Venice! There are still cars in Venice, but most people have to take the ferry or some sort of boat to get all over the city. Also, there is a train in Venice that easily transports you to different cities all over Italy.

      Thanks for sharing your guess for tomorrow’s Wonder, Jacob L! We hope you “slide” over to Wonderopolis tomorrow to Wonder with us again! :)

    • Hi there, FR3D, we’re glad that you enjoy visiting Wonderopolis– we are always happy when you are here! Sometimes when we feel down, it’s helpful to talk to a parent, teacher or adult you trust. Talking about our feelings when we’re down is a good way to communicate, and it may help you feel better, too. Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

  9. PERCUSSION! 😀 That’s what the wonder will be tomorrow. I just know it. I know because I am in band, I play The B flat Clarinet! Also sadly I am right in front of, well they look like, giant bongos that you hit with a mallet.

    • Great guess, Wonder Friend Mystery! We are excited to see what tomorrow’s Wonder will be, too!

      How fun that you are a part of band– we bet you have a lot of practicing to do in order to be a great Clarinet player! We Wonder if you have to wear ear plugs when you sit in front of the percussion instruments, or do you turn your head to avoid the loud noise? :)

    • Hi, Wonder Friend Emily! That’s a great question– and it has to do with tourism. People who visit Venice are usually the ones who travel by gondola, where the Venetians (people who live in Venice), are usually taking a ferry or another mode of transportation. Many, many people still enjoy the sights and sounds of Venice by gondola, but over the years, those numbers have decreased. Thanks for sharing your comment today! :)

  10. Hey Wonderopolis, I am back!! Today was a very interesting Wonder. When I was younger, I used to watch Hannah Montana, she rode in one once.

    • Very cool, Gina M! We are glad you could make the connection between what you saw on TV to our Wonder today! We think traveling by gondola would be a pretty cool way to get from place to place! Thanks for joining the fun today! :)

  11. Gondola is a dumb and hard to pronounce word but I love Venice and I think tomorrow’s wonder is about drums or pinatas.

    • Hi there, Pokemonlover! Sometimes words that are unfamiliar or are spoken in different languages can be tough to pronounce. This is how we learned to say the Italian word gondola (gon-doe-lah)! We bet with a bit of practice, you will be able to say it, too!

      We think Venice is a pretty cool place to Wonder about, and we hope to visit one day soon! However, we hope to see you tomorrow so we can find out what the next Wonder is! See you soon! :)

  12. WONDEROPOLIS don’t you WONDER how people in Venice get from place to place in the winter when the canals/water streets are frozen? Because I do. 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

    • Hi there Wonder Friend Mystery! What a SUPER idea– how do Venetians travel in the cold weather? We Wonder if you can find how cold it gets in Venice… does it become cold enough for the canals to freeze? We hope to hear back from you, Wonder Friend! GREAT WORK! :)

    • Great, Kaleyluv, we are happy to hear that! We Wonder if you learned anything new about your favorite type of boat– a gondola? :)

  13. Mrs. Ski’s PM class in Ohio thinks tomorrow’s wonder might be a gong or a drum. Some of us are wondering the same thing as Abbey asked above, what happens if you paint your gondola green? Do you have to pay a fine? Do you lose your job? (We are so glad to be commenting even though we are still blocked from most of the things on Wonderopolis…we are working on ways around that!) :)

    • Great guessing from our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Ski’s PM class!! We are glad you are WONDERing about the laws requiring gondolas to be painted black! :)

      We aren’t certain about the fines, but we think that the gondoliers take their jobs very seriously, and take pride in their work. Because it is a highly respected job in Venice, we think that the gondoliers respect the laws about painting the gondolas black.

      We sure are glad that you are commenting and WONDERing today– we are sorry to hear that you are experiencing blocking issues, but hopefully those issues will be resolved soon! Have a WONDERful day, Wonder Friends! :)

  14. Mrs. Ski’s PM class in Ohio thinks tomorrow’s wonder might be about drums or gongs. We have the same questions as Abbey posted above: Is there a penalty if you paint your gondola green? Do they own their own gondola’s? (We’re happy to be here, too! But admittedly still blocked and frustrated, but getting more creative at getting here!) We love to WONDER!

    • Hi Wonder Friends in Mrs. Ski’s PM class– we Wonder if you can do some research of your own about penalties against colorful gondolas! We would LOVE to see what kind of WONDERful information you can find! We think it’s interesting that a law enforced so very long ago still applies today! We think the gondolas look nice and uniform since they are all painted the same color. It lets the city of Venice stand out on its own!

    • Way to go, Hunter, we are happy to hear that you learned something new! We Wonder if you have ever traveled anywhere by boat? We think it sounds very cool! :)

  15. One of the questions that the our class had while reading this was: “Why do the gondolas have to be painted black?”

    Our class guesses for tomorrow’s are: a pinata, hitting a can, breaking ice game, how cans were invented.

    • Great WONDERing, Mrs. Dorough’s class! We are oh-so-happy you’re here today! It’s actually a law in Italy to paint the gondolas black. A very long time ago, there was a law that limited elaborate and ornate decorations from certain objects, including gondolas. To this day, gondolas are all uniform, with a simple black color.

      We can’t wait to Wonder with you tomorrow– we are SUPER glad you shared your GLORIOUS guesses with us! See you soon, Wonder Friends! :)

    • We’re glad you enjoyed WONDERing about Italian gondolas, Skye! We hope you had fun learning about how gondoliers row them through the canals! Thanks for sharing your guess for the next day’s Wonder… we hope you “slide” back for more WONDERing fun! :)

    • Great job WONDERing today, Chilly the Penguin! There is a law, from a very long time ago, that was created to keep certain things from becoming too elaborate and over-the-top. The gondola was included in that law and from then on, they must be painted a simple black– so now they are all uniform! We hope you have a WONDERful Wednesday! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a gondola?
  • Are gondolas still used today?
  • Can a gondola fly?

Wonder Gallery

Gondola shutterstock_87595678Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to take a longer tour of Venice, Italy? Jump online and enjoy a trip around the canals of Venice courtesy of these cool videos:

What do you think? Would you like to see Venice in person one day? What would you look forward to most?

Do you think you would enjoy being a gondola pilot? Why or why not? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of living somewhere where some of the “streets” are water?

Still Wondering

In EDSITEment!’s Lesson 2: On the Road with Marco Polo: From Venice to Hormuz lesson, children take an imaginary trip with Marco Polo from Venice to Hormuz.

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s cool Wonder of the Day CAN be beat with a stick!

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