The Italian Almanac


Italian News - July 26

Venice's gondolas are set to go back to basics, shedding the glitzy trappings recently tacked on to lure tourists. The city's gondola association has drawn up guidelines aimed at eliminating "a tasteless and tacky free-for-all". The body is poised to bar "the garish cushions, multi-coloured seating and flashy decorations which have appeared in recent years".

The question of gondola styling has been on the agenda since last summer, when traditionalists rebelled against a growing trend to glam up the historic boats. "I'm glad tradition has prevailed," association chief Roberto Puppi said Tuesday. "It shows gondoliers are serious about keeping up the high standards of their calling. Clients often prefer a flamboyant craft but the boat has a history and characteristics that must be upheld".

Under the new rules, statuettes on prows and sterns will be cut in number and size and stripped of the gold leaf that has crept in over the last decade. Seat backs and cushions will have to be made of plain leather, outlawing fancier materials. Colour-wise, gondoliers will have a choice of black, dark blue or purple for their interiors. All other parts of the boat must be black.

Black, banana-shaped gondolas have been used to ferry people and goods about the lagoon city for at least a millennium. They developed over the centuries in response to the Venetians' need for a light, manoeuvrable transport vessel which could be steered around islands and canals by a single person.

Once the new norms are approved, the city's 400 or so gondoliers will have to stick to them under threat of losing their licenses.