Monday, November 24, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Four-Fingered Ferro

Here's a very old shot of a gondola with the bridge to Venice in the background.
We don't know exactly when the photo was taken.

We can be certain that it was after the bridge was constructed in 1933.

My instinct tells me that someone who reads this will be able to give us all a tighter focus on things based on the appearance of the bridge.

Everybody:
Throw your opinions at me!

Now let's talk about the boat.
The first thing most of you will notice is the ferro - four, count 'em, FOUR fingers on that baby.
We've discussed the five-fingered variations in the past.
I can't imagine the reason for four unless one or two were broken off.

The second thing that caught my eye with this image was the felze - that oh-so traditional cabin, which is rarely seen anywhere today but in old photos.

The third eye-catching detail can be seen on the bow deck - those diagonal trim pieces are hardly ever seen on newer gondolas. I heard once that they date back to a time when people boarded by stepping on the bow and walking back to the passenger area. I'm not sure if I believe it.

But the one thing that trumps all,
is the most subtle of all.
And yet, it involves something as big as the boat itself - the hull.
She's not nearly as "banana shaped" as the ones built today. You see, the current-day gondola rises out of the water so early at bow and stern, that only 55% of the boat's length is represented at the waterline.


The popular belief is that in 1850, Domenico Tramontin built the first asymmetric gondola based on the request of a gondolier. Previous to that, gondoliers who had for centuries rowed in pairs, found themselves rowing solo more frequently.
So it comes as no surprise that someone finally came up with the idea of giving the boat a twist.

After the application of the "Tramontin Twist", the gondola gradually rose out of the water at both ends. The gondola in this photo may or may not be asymmetric - the angle of the shot makes it hard to tell, but she's definitely sitting low in the water.

It's hard to say how old the photo is. I'd guess it was in the 30's
I wouldn't be surprised if the boat was built in the mid-1800's.

As for the ferro - it's a mystery
but it sure gives the boat a cool look.

2 comments:

Nereo said...

Hi Greg, in my opinion that photo is a fake. You're right about the date the Ponte della ferrovia was constructed, anyway the mountains (??) are too close to Venice and have a look at the "pontapie" of the popier. It should be on the left side not on the right side. About the fero: I think that, in Venice, nobody would row a gondola with a four-fingered fero.
I have, somewhere in my drawers, a old photo taken during the construction of the bridge. As soon as I find it I'll scan and will send it to you.
Some hints could come from the analisys of the stamp.

Nereo said...

Sorry, I made a mistake: the railroad bridge (ponte della ferrovia) was built from 1840 and 1845. The car bridge in 1933.