Wednesday, April 9, 2008

the Oldest Gondola in the World

Experts say she was built in the 1870’s or earlier,
which would make her the world’s oldest existing gondola. 
In 1890 she was bought in Venice by American landscape artist Thomas Moran and shipped to his home in East Hampton on Long Island, NY. 
The gondola was also, at one time owned by the Browning family. 
She was donated in 1950 to the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. With the help of gondola and Venetian boat expert Gilberto Penzo [see], she was transported back to Venice in 1998 where she was restored by the Tramontin family. 
Today the oldest gondola in the world is displayed prominently at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News for all to see.

A close-up of the hand-carved relief on the aft deck.
I had wanted to see this famous Gondola for almost a decade but never found myself in the vicinity of Newport News until May of 2007 when I was consulting for Moondance Gondolas in Virginia Beach.
Just my luck, when I called the museum, I was told that the gondola was part of a display which was under restoration and the gondola wouldn’t be available for viewing until the following week.
Since we were scheduled to fly home before the exhibit would open, I contacted the woman who was in charge of the exhibit, told her who I was, and hoped she would either be impressed with my status as “president of the Gondola Society of America” (oooh, ahhh), or take pity on me because I wanted so bad to see the gondola. 
Neither of those things happened. 
I was told that the exhibit was closed and if I went to an area near the exhibit, I might be able to catch a glimpse of the gondola, if it wasn’t behind something at the time.

The ferro shows many similarities to modern versions,
but there are a few differences
- see if you can pick them out.

The lantern on the bow has that classic look. 
As for the photo - well, I thought the angle would be unique and retrospect, it just looks crooked.

The scimier is one of my favorite pieces on this boat.
Determined not to be discouraged, I threw my family in the rental car and drove from Virginia Beach up to Newport News (a beautiful drive, by the way), found the museum, and made my way to the area where the exhibit was being assembled. The Maritime Museum is an amazing place, and if you have any interest in boats, it’s worth spending a day there just to be amazed by the various vessels and displays showing how seafaring was accomplished in various times and places throughout the world.

Once I arrived at the exhibit, I was greeted by a very gracious security officer who allowed me to pass under the ropes and step right up to the gondola. I took pictures for about 15 minutes, although I could have easily spent an hour and a half with that boat. I would have liked to climb into the gondola and get a closer look at things under the decks, but I knew that would be too much, given the circumstances. Nevertheless I was very happy to have the chance to see her and place a hand, gently, on the oldest gondola in the world.

To learn more about the Maritime Museum and the oldest gondola in the world, visit:


DG Beat said...

Wow. That's an awesome sight. I wonder who the last person to row it was.

Gondola Greg said...

Funny, just today I was wondering the same thing. I'll bet they had no idea how significant that gondola would be one day.