After only 900 years, Venice has licensed its first female gondolier.Giorgia Boscolo, 24, passed her final exams last Friday and her name has now been added to the official list of those allowed to practice the age-old profession in the lagoon city.
For a year Ms Boscolo, who has two children, had to juggle domestic life as she learnt how to navigate the intricate maze of canals that criss-cross Venice as well as taking theory lessons in a classroom – including basic English and knowledge of the Venetian landmarks.
Ms Boscolo’s achievement is truly remarkable as since gondoliers took to the waterways of Venice in 1094, there has never been a woman among them.She inherited her love of gondolas from her father Dante, who spent 40 years manouevring his own 35-foot boat through the waterways, and as a child she would watch him with delight.
“I’ve always loved gondolas and, unlike my three sisters, I preferred to punt with my father instead of going out with my friends.I am so happy to be the first female gondolier. It feels as if I am in dreamland and I am delighted to have fulfilled an ambition I have always had as a child.The guys joked with me that a woman would not be able to control a heavy and long gondola, but I told them that I had given birth to two children and that was far more difficult.”
Ms Boscolo said her father, who retired last year, had wanted to pass on tradition to his daughter, breaking the usual father to son line. Now she is entitled to wear the traditional white-and-blue striped shirt, black trousers and – as the gondoliers’ code requires – matching shoes as well as non-regulation gold nail polish.
Venice’s mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, said: “I’m delighted with Giorgia’s achievement and I’m sure that following on from her example other women will pick up the coveted oar of a gondola.
“The first female gondolier is another step towards parity between sexes and I’m sure her male colleagues will share her delight. In the past there has been a tendency of excessive machismo.”
Two other women who had enrolled on the course with Ms Boscolo may not agree with him as they failed the course. They were Alessandra Taddei, a local woman who belongs to the Venetian rowing club and Alexandra Hai, a German-American who has fought a 12-year battle for the right to become a gondolier.
Even before the official course was launched in 2007, Ms Hai had taken the gondoliers’ test four times, steering her boat along canals and performing tricky manoeuvres. But each time she failed, saying that examiners were “overly strict.”
She has accused the 425-strong association of Venetian gondoliers of deliberately keeping her out because of her sex, but the association has refuted this claim fiercely, saying she simply isn’t good enough.
Ms Hai, 43, did however win a small victory when a court upheld her right to ferry hotel guests about in a gondola even though she has no licence.
There are 40 places on the gondolier course, which lasts six months and includes 400 hours of instruction in using the distinctive single oar that is used to propel a gondola through the water.