Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Hanna. Hanna Wonders, “Why are gondolas black?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Hanna!

Have you ever been to Venice, Italy? Or maybe you’ve seen a movie set there. If so, you were probably amazed by the beautiful scenery. You might also have been curious about why many “streets” in Venice are made of water.

Those “streets” are called canals. Are you WONDERing how the people who live in Venice get around? After all, they can’t just hop in a car and drive through the water! That’s why people in Venice move through the city in small boats. 

Visitors to Venice love to ride around in flat-bottomed boats called gondolas. People have used gondolas to move through the city’s canals for hundreds of years. Gondola drivers — called gondoliers — power the boats by hand. They row the boats along the canals using long oars.

Gondolas were once the main mode of transportation in Venice. Today, they are mainly used by tourists. However, they still play an important role as traghetti ferries — over the Grand Canal.

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

At the height of their popularity, there were about 10,000 gondolas in Venice. That number has fallen to fewer than 500 today.

Today’s gondolas are open to the air. This allows tourists to have a better view of the city. By law, gondolas must also be painted black. The boats also often have a special ornament on their front. Called the fèrro — meaning “iron” — it can be made of brass, stainless steel or aluminum. In addition to being decorative, it helps to balance the boat. It acts as a counterweight to the gondolier who stands in the back of the boat.

Speaking of gondoliers, not just anyone can be one! A limited number of licenses are given out. Only those with extensive training can be gondoliers. They also have to pass a test on the city’s history. Gondoliers must have foreign language skills and be able to share the history of Venice with tourists.

Gondolas aren’t just boats, though. Have you ever been to a ski resort? If so, you may have ridden in a gondola to the top of a mountain. These aerial lifts are also called cable cars. They look nothing like Venetian gondola boats. They’ve just borrowed the name. That may be because of their use to ferry tourists to new heights.

Would you like to ride through Venice in a gondola? Or would you rather drive tourists around as a gondolier? Experiencing Venice can be quite an adventure. Just watch your step—you don’t want to fall overboard!

Standards: C3.D2.His.2, C3.D2.Geo.8, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.`10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s cool Wonder of the Day is on thin ice!