This assembly looks at the work of the gondoliers, the magical city of Venice, and the excitement of travelling somewhere new that a holiday can bring
In Venice, Giorgia Boscolo has passed the first of her tests to become a gondolier. A mother of two, she is a second generation gondolier in a role that is more usually reserved for men.
At this time of year, a lot of people are thinking about changes: you’ll all be moving up to a new class next year, with new books and new work and new teachers. Some of you will even be going to a new school. For those older students who are leaving school, many will be hoping to get jobs or looking forward to going to college.
But before that, of course, many people will be looking forward to a well earned summer holiday. Some will be going camping or youth hostelling; others will stay with friends and families in other parts of the country; some will have day trips to places near where they live; some will play in the park and go swimming outdoors and have burnt food on family barbecues; some will go to stay in other countries. Whatever you do during your holiday, it will certainly be a change from coming to school every day!
One person who is really looking forward to the changes that summer will bring is a 23 year old mother of two called Giorgia Boscolo. There’s no reason why you should have heard of Giorgia: she’s not rich, she’s not a singer or an actress and has never made a film. But now she is in the newspapers because of her unusual job: Giorgia is a gondolier. It really is a strange sounding name – can anyone guess what it means to be a gondolier? [Take suggestions]
Those are some very interesting suggestions but in fact Giorgia has just passed her tests to row a gondola – a long thin rowing boat – around the city of Venice in northern Italy. And because of this, Giorgia’s photograph has been in newspapers all over the world. [Show photograph]
You might wonder why someone who rows people around in Venice in a boat should be making headline news? I’ll explain…
Venice is a very unusual city. For a start, it’s a place that tourists love to visit because it’s so beautiful. Secondly, nobody walks down the streets in Venice and there no cars, no lorries and no bicycles – can you guess why? Let’s have another look at that picture of Giorgia. [Show picture]
Now can you guess why? Look closer. There aren’t any streets – the roads and streets through Venice are filled with water! That’s because Venice is a city built on a group of islands by the sea which are connected only by canals. Here is a big picture of Venice from above, to give you a proper idea of how it looks. [Show picture]
The first people to live in Venice arrived around 1.500 years ago. To keep themselves safe, they lived on the small islands and used rafts to get about. As the population grew, people wanted more permanent houses. So a few hundred years ago, huge trees were cut down and pushed down into the mud and silt under the rivers and swampy ground and huge houses were built on top of them. Because there is no air in the mud and silt, the wood doesn’t rot. In fact, all the minerals flowing through the mud and silt and salty water have made the wood very hard – almost like stone.
This is what Venice looks like today. [Show more pictures]
To travel anywhere in Venice, you have to go by boat.
Imagine that! A modern city without a single car! What would you like about living in a city that was built on water? What would you miss? [Take suggestions]
When Robert Benchley, an American columnist who lived around the 1900s, flew to Venice for a holiday, he famously sent a telegram his editor, ‘Streets flooded. Please advise.’ I expect he was joking!
There are water buses called vaporetti that go up and down the main canals, and some people own their own small motorboats. But the most exciting way to see Venice is in a gondola. In the days before engines were invented, gondola boats were the only way to travel around Venice. They are beautiful, long, slim boats, made of eight different types of wood, which can carry around six people and are rowed by a gondolier who rows standing at one end. The gondolas and gondoliers give such a striking picture of Venice that they’ve even had a musical opera written about them called… you’ve guessed it… ‘The Gondoliers’ by Gilbert and Sullivan.
As you can imagine, gondolas are a very popular way for tourists to see Venice. Which brings us back to Giorgia.
Giorgia’s story continued
Until recently, throughout their long 900 year history gondolas have always been rowed by men. It was thought that women weren’t strong enough to do the job, but Giorgia always dreamed of rowing a gondola and follow in the footsteps of her father, Alessandro.
Because the gondolas are such an important part of Venice’s history, would-be gondoliers have to pass strict tests. They have to have good knowledge of Venetian history and its landmarks, have practical skills in rowing the gondola − especially in the tight spaces of Venetian canals − know how to navigate Venice’s winding waterways, and how to manage the difficult tides and currents that flow in from the sea. And on top of that, the gondoliers are expected to have good foreign language skills. Phew!
Giorgia went on a six month course and is now the first woman to have passed all her exams and been given permission to take up the gondolier’s long oar made of beech wood.
‘I’m so happy to have realised my dream,’ says Giorgia. ‘I’ve been working on this since I was a little girl.’
Her Dad says, ‘She is bravissima [very brave]. I’m really proud of her – although I’m still not sure that being a gondolier is woman’s work.’
‘I’m sure that with experience Giorgia will be able to do it.’
It sounds like Giorgia will have her work cut out for her to prove that she’s just as good at rowing a gondola as her male colleagues!
Good luck, Giorgia! What a wonderful job you have in one of the most beautiful – and unusual – cities in the world.
Thank you for the ingenuity and creativity that encourage people to build a beautiful and unusual city like Venice. Teach us to love and respect the history around us and to enjoy the local traditions wherever we visit in the world. Amen.
Each village, town and city in the world has its own traditions. The traditions of Venice are unusual because of its watery location, but respecting tradition and differences wherever we find them will help us to understand the people who live there and enjoy them as tourists.
- The woods used to make gondolas are: lime, larch, oak, fir, cherry, elm and mahogany. The oars are made from beech and the rowlocks from walnut.
- The reason the wooden piles on which Venice is built don’t decay is because of the lack of oxygen in the water there.
- Nobody knows for sure where the word ‘gondola’ comes from.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2009
About the author: Jane A. C. West