Venetian Gondoliers Limit Riders after Complaints about Tourist Weight

heavier passengers too weighty for safety of gondolas

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Venice is restricting passenger numbers on gondolas, citing weight concerns, CNN reported. Gondoliers have complained about the weight of tourists going up in recent years and will reduce the maximum number of passengers from six to five. The classic boats remain popular for seeing the city.

Venice, gondalas
A highlight of visiting Venice, of course, is the delightful experience of a gondola ride. Photo By givaga / Shutterstock

The gondola industry made headlines last week when it announced a reduction in the limit of passengers it will allow per gondola. “It’s not social distancing that prompted the change—it’s the ballooning average weight of tourists flocking to the destination,” a CNN article said. “The change applies to Venice’s quintessential slim boats that slither along the small canals. The maximum occupancy in the ‘da parada’ gondolas, which serve mostly as taxis across the Grand Canal, has also been reduced, from 14 to 12.”

Seeing Venice by gondola is a world-famous tourist attraction and offers the chance to observe a beautiful city in a unique fashion.

We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat

When it comes to sightseeing in Venice, there’s only one must-see mode of transportation.

Gondolas are one of the symbols of the city—but they began as extremely efficient means of transportation,” said Dr. Kenneth R. Bartlett, Professor of History at the University of Toronto. “They’re very very shallow and very narrow, because many of the canals in Venice are very shallow and very narrow, and it was necessary to provide access to those canals and the people who lived on them.”

Dr. Bartlett pointed out that gondolas are not entirely straight—they’re slightly curved, since the gondolier rows from one side. They do this by placing the oar in a cradle-like object, known as a forcula or oarlock, on the side of the boat. The oarlock helps them propel the boat forward.

“The decoration of the gondola hasn’t changed very much at all,” he said. “The basic shape we see was determined as early as the 13th century, and in the 16th century, the decision was by the Venetian government that there could be no decoration of the gondola—the gondolas all had to be black. However, foreigners were permitted to decorate their gondolas.”

The First Rule of Venetian Fight Club…

One site that Dr. Bartlett recommended paying attention to is the Ponte Dei Pugni Bridge, also known as “The Bridge of the Fists.”

“It’s called that because it was the site of the equivalent of the Venetian ‘Fight Club,'” he said. “Between 1600 and 1705, groups of working class youth—the Nicollotti and Castellani—would gather on this bridge, and they would fight. The purpose was to try and push one another off the bridge into the cold water of the late fall and early winter canal.”

Dr. Bartlett said this went on for a century without incident, but in 1705, fighters began brandishing knives and throwing roof tiles at one another. This proved dangerous enough that the Venetian government stepped in and stopped the fights. They haven’t occurred again in over 300 years.

Anyone visiting this beautiful city has the chance to make life-long memories seeing Venice from its canals. However, if they’re in a party of six or more, they’ll have to split up into two gondolas.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Kenneth R.Bartlett contributed to this article. Dr. Bartlett is a Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He received his PhD from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto in 1978.