Venice Decoded: Discovering the Signs & Symbols of Venice

Venice looks beautiful from the outside, but there is more to it thanks to its many symbols and signs. Every part of Venice, from flags to gondolas, has a story to tell. These are just three of our favorite stories.

Gondola symbols

It is no secret that the Venetian Gondola is Venice’s symbol. There’s more, however, as the gondola is filled with symbols and meanings.

The first is the size of your gondola. Each one measures exactly 35′ 6″ long by 4′ 6″, wide by 10 inches, and each one has one end that is 10 inches longer. Simple physics explains why: The longer side is lighter than the heavier one. All gondolas have the same length and width. They are also all black. Why is this? The reason?

The mere appearance of a gondola’s color and shape is enough to show how important they were to Venice. Even if laws were passed to regulate them. There’s more to the gondola, however: Its very design conceals symbols.

We would!

Take a look at the ferro (or prow) of a gondola. You see the metal decoration at the front? It’s not accidental. It’s not random. In fact, the front metal band has an “S-shaped curve” to it. This is similar to the Grand Canal’s shape as it cuts through Venice. The front’s six prongs represent Venice’s six districts. The prong facing backwards represents Giudecca, an Italian island located just south of Venice.

The flourish at the top of six prongs echos the Doge’s cap. The little arch between the flourishes and the tops of the six prongs is also a reminder of the Doge’s cap. This is the Rialto bridge.

Cute, huh?

Hidden meanings of Venetian street name names

Many Italian cities have street names that begin with “Via”, like Rome’s Via Veneto. It’s a bit more complicated in Venice. Why? Venice had many more canals in its past than it has today. The city built the railway station in 19th century. Visitors began to arrive without their boats. To make it more accessible, they filled in canals and paved them with streets. Today? That history can be “read” through the jumble of words Venetians use for their streets.

First, “calle” in Venice is used instead “via”. A calle is a street that runs between 2 sets of buildings.

What the hell is a “ramo?”?

Many streets don’t have a name. Another thing to watch out for is “salizada.” Salizada refers to “paved” and these streets used to be Venice’s most important streets. These streets were the first streets to be paved using the grayer, more expensive paving stones you see today almost everywhere.

There is also ramo. Look out for signs that say “Ramo —,”” because a ramo was created to provide access to homes whose main entrance was a canal.

You have calle, salizada and ramo. Ruga is an additional option. “Ruga,” which literally translates to “wrinkle,” refers specifically to the streets that were the longest in Venice. Ruga Rialto is perhaps the most well-known.

The winged lion is the most well-known Venetian symbol.

This is the ubiquitous winged lion that watches over the Arsenale

The winged lion is another symbol you can’t escape from Venice. The lion can be found everywhere, on flags, palaces, and statues. Here’s the big question: Why is there a lion in the maritime republic and not a seagull or fish?

This is because Venetian merchants robbed the body of St. Mark, the apostle, from his tomb at Alexandria, Egypt, in the ninth century. The captain was almost drowned by a storm when St. Mark appeared to him and instructed him to lower his sails. Merchants said that the miracle saved the ship.

After they had told their story to Venice, the city voted him its patron saint. It helped that another legend said that St. Mark once stopped along the Venetian coast in order to avoid a storm. An angel appeared and told him that the locals would one-day venerate him.

What is the most common symbol used to depict St. Mark in Christian iconography A winged lion.

Keep your eyes wide open when you are in Venice. Every detail of what you see has a story.

Stay tuned for the next post about how to decode Venice’s beautiful palaces – each one has a lot of information about Venetian architecture as well as its history, residents, and values.

Are there any other mysteries or symbols you are curious about? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

You can take a gondola ride in Venice while you are there. Gondola rides last 35 minutes and 60 minutes.

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