Venice without its long, sleek, black gondolas is unimaginable, and the artisans at the Squero di San Trovaso are among the people responsible for making sure this doesn’t happen.
The squero, a traditional boatyard, is one of the oldest in the city, and one of three that are still functional today. When it opened in the 17th century, more than 10,000 Venetian vessels were plying on the city’s waters, and were the primary mode of transport. Around 60 boat builders were employed by the squero during this prosperous period. Today, the boats are mostly hired by tourists looking for that perfect romantic ride, and around 350 boats are on hand to create that magic.
Only about 10 new boats are built every year—simple, flat-bottomed structures, traditionally made from eight kinds of wood: mahogany, cherry, fir, walnut, oak, elm, larch and lime. There’s no modern equipment on board, just the gondolier and his single oar. But there’s plenty to do in the boatyard, as the active gondolas require regular maintenance and repair, as often as once a month because of the constant exposure to water.
Housed in a wooden cabin complex, the squero is not open to the public but it’s possible to sneak a peek from across the street. If you’re lucky you can see the boat builders in action, painting on a layer of black varnish or attending to some structural work, and generally making sure the course of the gondolas run smooth.