Venice is famous for its gondolas, the glassware produced on Murano Island and its famous Carnivale masks. While at Venice, you can rent a gondola for a ride, buy a Murano Glass pitcher or a long-nosed mask. But perhaps you might want to take a closer look at how they are made.
Building your own gondola
In fact, if you care to spend the time and money, you can actually learn to make a gondola of your own at the Squero Canaletto. A squero is a workshop for building gondolas. Founded by an American named Thom Price, the Squero Canaletto is a workshop dedicated to building gondolas, to pass on the craft of building gondolas to the next generation, and to provide an immersive experience for people who are keen to know more about gondolas in general.
Visitors can participate in a week-long workshop to get an understanding of the basics of gondola building as well as the customs and traditions surrounding the art. Alternately, there are also workshops on the crafting of the “forcola”, which is used for the oar to pivot on, and also workshops on how a gondola is rowed.
If you actually wish to learn to make gondolas, they have an apprentice programme which lasts a year and is suitable for persons who already possess woodwork or boatbuilding skills. Squero Canaletto does not admit casual tourists for short trips, but if you wish to make a short trip to a squero, visit the Squero San Travaso, which is open to the public.
Glass for all seasons
You cannot actually take a course in making Murano glass, as it takes about 10 years of apprenticeship before a glassmaker can be formally recognized by his peers. You can, however, take a tour of a glass factory as part of your trip to Venice. Organised tours usually make a short excursion to Murano Island, which is the home of the Venetian glass industry. Alternately, your innkeeper or concierge can arrange for you to join a local tour which will take you to the island and from there to a factory.
The Venetian glass industry came of age in the 15th century when they acquired Syrian methods and came up with innovations such as cristallo, a clear glass, lattimo — an opaque or clouded glass, and mirrors. Today’s trademark Venetian glassware is usually elaborate, with a mix of coloured and clear glass, often inlaid with metal or metal-coloured decoration.
After your visit to the glass factory, you can stroll around Murano island, but beware — there are no lodgings on the island itself and the residents there do not take kindly to lodgers. The island is a tight-knit community, with many belonging to families who have been carrying on in the glass trade for centuries.
Masks for the Carnivale
Come February, Venice breaks out into exuberant colour and splendour with the coming of the Carnivale. First celebrated as a result of a victory of the Venetian Republic in 1162, Carnivale today is an excuse to dress up in flamboyant and frivolous clothes, and to wear masks for an air of mystery.
The typical Venetian mask (pictured above) is made of papier-mâché. A clay figure is made first, and a cast of it is made with chalk paste. Papier-mâché is then made and pressed into the chalk mold. After the papier-mâché is dry, the mask is painted white and then gold leaf is attached. The final stages are the finishing touches of painting and waxing to give it an aged feel.
Some themes are very common with the masks — beak-nosed, feathered, the joker, and golden sunbursts. The Carnavale ensemble is usually completed with an elaborate dress of many layers or feathers, and an oversized tricorn hat or huge wig to top it off. You will find masks and other carnavale paraphernalia in many shops around town.