Venetian gondola: the meaning of its iron prow
When you look at a ventian gondola, it is impossible not to notice the metal blade which is on the prow of the boat. Have you ever asked yourself why it is there? Is it functional or just a decoration? Does it have a symbolic meaning? If you are curious, thus follow us in our little trip into the mysterious and magical world of the fero da prora…
Originally, the function of the fero da prora on the gondola prow was to act as a counterweight to the gondolier and to keep the gondola’s flat bottom level in the water (as a matter of fact, the shape of the venetian gondola is not symmetrical and it is like a sort of banana which is larger on one side). However, it did not take long since the artistic minds of the venetians covered it with a symbolic meaning, able to synthesize what all Venice was about.
First of all there is the shape of the metal blade which can be seen on the gondola prow. This element, with its typical S shape, represents the turns of the Canal Grande (the main water street of Venice) or the mane of the lion, the symbol of the powerful Serenissima. Then, there are the six fingers which stand for the six sestrieri of Venice (San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, Castello, Dorsoduro, Cannaregio). The opposite one stands for the Giudecca and it is called the risso di poppa. Then there is the upper part which symbolises the hat of the Doge.
Sometimes, between the six ‘fingers’ of the fero da prora, there are three little friezes which feature as the three main bridges: Rialto, Accademia and Scalzi.
However, now the venetian gondoliers have a big problem due to the so called acquaalta (high water) which recurs more and more often. The acquaalta provokes a rise of the canals water and makes often impossible for the gondola to pass under the bridges. And that is mainly due to the highness of the fero da prora. A big problem indeed, that many gondoliers have resolved by removing the fero from their gondola prow, putting some lower counterweight, or by making the metalwork hinged so to have the option of flipping it down when needed.
Venice is changing: however, we do love to think that the magic of the black and mysterious venetian gondolas will never lose its appeal…