There is something magical about gliding slowly along the water, being sung to by a Gondolier. It is in movies. It is in our dreams. It is in Venice. It is in Las Vegas.
For almost 1,000 years, the gondola has been developing its own history, creating stories and influencing art, music, tourism, and much more. The first record of a gondola appeared in 1094 when Venetian Doge Vito Falier issued a charter to allow Venetian citizens the privilege of building their own vessels. Obviously, they existed before the charter took place, at least at a royal level. The watercraft was, and is, used for transportation of goods and passengers.
These boats become fancier and more lavish until laws were passed in 1562 mandating that all gondolas must be painted black. The exception was for those owned by royalty. Over 10,000 gondolas existed during Venice’s peak in the 1500s.
Since the 1700s, a small group of families has dominated and controlled the building of these unique icons. This has helped to maintain the distinct shape with very little variation.
Until World War II, gondoliers were required to wear black. However, since then, the now famous striped shirts have become the quintessential look of those guiding the visitors. It wasn’t until 2010, after 900 years, that Venice granted its first license to a woman.
Two places in the world offer a unique ride on a gondola. Of course, Venice, Italy is the original source and continues to delight visitors and propel the romance and atmosphere of times past. The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas has recreated much of the glamour and nostalgia of the original canals in Venice. Guests can book a gondola ride that travels either inside the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian or along the front waterways near the entrance to the resort. Either is a memorable experience that evokes travel from a bygone era in a land far away. The details of the gondolas and the canals are incredible. The songs of the gondoliers are wonderful. It is an activity not to be missed during a visit to Las Vegas.
Today there are only about 400 gondolas. And there are about 425 licensed gondoliers in Venice.
On display inside the resort between the Venetian and Palazzo is a rare and original gondola from Venice, Italy from the 1800s. It has a removeable cover called a felze. These covers were discontinued in 1900. This particular gondola went up for sale in 1965, at auction by Butterfield and Butterfield in San Francisco. William Harrah purchased it to add to his famous automobile collection and then had the gondola restored.
Among other things, he replaced the worn upholstery and the hand-etched window glass. It was restored to its original beauty to carry on its history and tradition. In 1981, Harrah’s Automobile Collection auctioned the gondola and sold it to Lonnie Hammargren, a neurosurgeon who also served as Lt. Governor of Nevada from 1995-1999. In 2017, Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO, purchased this gondola from Hammargren and began the process to bring it back to its beautifully restored condition. You can book your own ride on a gondola at The Venetian in Las Vegas, either indoor or outdoor.
For those that still need more “gondola” in their life, The Venetian offers a Gondola University. This unique program, limited to 9 participants a day, allows guests to learn how to pilot a gondola as well as receive a gondola hat and t-shirt and even a degree certificate from Gondola University. Guests can find out more about this by visiting Emporio D’gondola at the top of the escalators next to The Waterfall Atrium.