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THE GONDOLAS OF VENICE

Visitors to Venice come away with some all too common impressions: the city is breathtakingly beautiful with its countless canals and bridges. There are no cars, and the waterways are all plied by vaporetti, water taxis, and gondolas. This water-bound metropolis of 270,000 inhabitants abounds in churches jam packed with priceless paintings and statuary. It is also exceedingly expensive. Venice has been home to, or visited by, numerous creative individuals, including architect Palladio; scientist-mathematician Galileo; painters Titian, Tintoretto, Canaletto, Veronese and Bellini; composers Albinoni and Vivaldi; and the lover Cassanova! Famous visitors who marveled at its prepossessing beauty include Napoleon, Hemingway. At one point in the early 16th century, Leonardo da Vinci, shortly after abandoning Milan, spent time in Venice (I know of at least one sketch).

Venice grew into a city from a loose federation of scattered villages. As its population increased, a network of canals was dug. The network spread and became increasingly dense until it formed the watery maze we know today, and which the twentieth-century architect-urban planner Le Corbusier pronounced, "a perfect cardiac system!" This very specific kind of urban development, which could never depend to a very great extent on animal transport, required a craft able to carry more and more people over lengthening distances through narrow, hard-to negotiate canals at ever-swifter speeds. The gondola — the flat-bottom boat with high points at the bow and stern, and steered at latter with a pole — evolved 'in response to those changing needs. The first hard evidence of the gondola's existence in Venice goes back to 1094, when Doge (Duke) Vito Falier issued a charter granting certain Lagoon villagers the right to build gondolas. Over the centuries, the craft has evolved continually. Today's gondola is the product of unceasing changes and improvements made in response to the socio-economic development of Venice itself. Its history is a kind of maritime application of Darwin's theory of evolution, a dialectical relationship between a boat and its geographical and human surroundings.

The gondola, which has become virtually synonymous with Venice, may not even have originated there. Semantic controversy even exists about the word, some etymologists claiming that it is a corruption of the Greek konkula ("hard little peel"). Others trace it to khontilas (Greek for short boat'). A further explanation points to the similarity between the shapes of the gondola and a Roman boat of the fourth century AD with the hypothetical name fundula. What is clear is that it inspired the flat bottom boat (albeit sans high ends) — the “punt” — that can be seen in the waters of the River Isis/Thames in Oxford, and the River Cam in Cambridge, introduced in the 17th century, as the British became enamored of things Venetian.

I had been serving as a guest lecturer onboard the cruise ship Crystal Symphony for three weeks, when the ship made overnight berth in Venice August 6, 2006, and I shot the photo of the group of gondolas parked early in the morning at the gondola dock at Piazza San Marco (which is behind me in the photo). Indeed, the shimmering reflections of the sun are seen in the water on the lower left side, and the island, Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, is seen in the background. Later that evening I shot a sunset scene of Santa Maria Della Salute, capturing the astonishingly romantic city in another mood still.

The photograph was shot with Nikon D-70, steadied on a post, using an 18-70 mm lens.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6777 W: 471 N: 12149] (41261)
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