● The gondola is the symbol of Venice and is shrouded in myth and mystery. Some scholars claim gondolas date back to 697, though the first accepted documentary reference appeared in 1094.
In the 15th the "gondola" had shrunk but acquired a felze, or cabin, by 1562, boats were so encumbered with decoration that the authorities issued a special law banning ostentation of any kind.
Thereafter, gondolas were a uniform black and their exteriors restricted to just three flourishes - a curly tail, a pair of seahorses and a multi-pronged ferro, or prow. These are still the gondola's only metal elements.
The prow's origins are even more mysterious than those of the gondola - some have five pettini, or prongs, some six (perhaps symbolic of Venice's six sestieri, or districts). ●
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