Gondola , a light and swift kind of boat, used on the canals of Venice and supplying the place of carriages. They are usually 25 or 30 ft. long, 5 ft. wide in the middle, and sharp at both ends, which are curved upward, the bow being ornamented with a high serrated iron plate something like the letter S in form.
Near the middle is a small cabin for the use of passengers. Formerly immense sums were sometimes expended by the great nobles on the decoration of these cabins; and this extravagance was carried so far that it was found necessary to pass a law compelling uniformity in style, no distinction of ornament or color being permitted except in the gondolas of foreign ambassadors and in that of the patriarch, who, if a cardinal, was allowed to use red silk or wool in the decoration of his cabin. Since that time all have been painted black and their cabins hung with black cloth. They are propelled sometimes by a single gondolier, standing at the stern, and sometimes by two, one at the stern and one at the bow. At the beginning of this century there are said to have been more than 6,000 gondolas in Venice, and the gondoliers formed an important body, noted for their wit and humor as well as for their skill with the oars. They were celebrated also for their singing and their recitations of passages from Tasso and Ariosto, but their songs are now seldom heard.