Everyone has seen them — in movies, in paintings, in dreams — slinking like panthers through Venetian canals: The gondola, strangely regal, slightly ominous, an implausible boat in a highly implausible city.
Novelists, poets, artists, even people who don’t particularly care about boats have struggled to express its peculiar fascination. They’ve compared the gondola to a cradle, a coffin, a bird. Is it the bizarre shape? The obsidian blackness? Its extraordinary environment of floating palaces? Whatever the explanation, Venice without the gondola might as well be Venice without water.
Why, given Venice’s intricate environment of narrow canals and sharp corners, is such a long vessel the perfect boat for this city? And how can it possibly be that a person rowing a gondola carrying two passengers exerts no more energy than if he were just walking down the street?
While the design of a gondola (GON-do-lah) might seem to be based on fantasy and ornamentation, it is actually a work of logic, geometry, and physics.