Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 1, 2017

Venice: Boat Building, Bridge Fights and a Boat Legend

As I was researching locations for the recent Part 4 of Ye Bigge Sleepe, I concentrated on the Dorsoduro portion of Venice, because the Università Ca’ Foscari, one of the places that figured in the story is there. That jogged a memory from a walk The Counselor and I took there one afternoon, with only a general idea of a destination in mind.

We encountered this scene:

Squero di San Trovaso Brad Nixon 2000 (640x462)

We’d happened upon Lo Squero di San Trovaso: “The Boat Builders of San Trovaso.”

In numerous trips to Venice, we’d seen hundreds of boats and ridden in a few, including gondolas. I’d never seriously wondered where gondolas come from, but that’s one place.

The boatyard is marked with a red flag near the bottom center of the map:

Dorsoduro map marked (640x489)

According to their website, the squero has been there since at least the 17th Century. The wooden architecture of the boatyard buildings isn’t typically Venetian because it reflects the building style in the homeland of the early carpenters who became boat builders. They came from Auronzo di Cadore in the mountainous far north of the Veneto region, not far from the Austrian border.

According to Wikipedia, there were between 8,000 and 10,000 gondolas in Venice in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Today the number is approximately 400. There are, though, hundreds or perhaps thousands of other boats. Boats are an integral part of life in Venice, and I wrote previously about them HERE.

The gondoli of today have a different shape than those earlier ones. Today’s craft owe their design, created in the 19th Century, to another still-extant Dorsoduro squeroDomenico Tramontin & Figli, a few hundred yards from Squero di San Trovaso along the Rio del Ognissanti (map, green circle). Viewing the photos on their website, you’ll see more of that chalet-style northern Italian architecture.

Now you know that if you need your gondola repaired, if you want to order a new one, or perhaps a pupparino, sandolo, sciopòno or other traditional Venetian craft, the skilled workmen are still at work. Note that Lo Squero di San Trovaso’s site provides information about visiting the works.

A Legendary Bridge and a Boat Legend

Wandering north from San Trovaso, in the direction of Ca’ Rezzonico and Ca’ Foscari, you’ll come to Campo San Barnaba (map, red star). To reach Campo Santa Margherita beyond it, as I did in my recent story, you’ll cross the Rio de San Barnaba on the Ponte dei Pugni (map, blue square).

Ponte dei Pugni Google (640x360)

Standing on the bridge, you have this view of San Barnaba.

Venice Brad Nixon 20001 (640x447)

If you know any Latinate language, that word “pugni” might cause you to ask, “Does that have something to do with fighting?” Yes, it does.

In the 16th Century, bridge fighting was a proud tradition between rival Venetian clans. Bring your gang to the bridge, padded with heavy clothes and armed with long, sharpened sticks, face off on either side of the bridge and have at it. Until fairly recent times, most Venetian bridges didn’t have railings or sides, and the idea was to poke, prod or push your opponents into the canal (often with extreme prejudice). This manly pastime evolved into fist-fighting, continuing through the 1600s. That bridge, site of many such brawls, became known as the the Bridge of Fists. Following some particularly dire free-for-alls, the practice was banned in 1705. There are further colorful details at the always-interesting Atlas Obscura, HERE.

However, let us enjoy the view from the Ponte dei Pugni (leaning on the modern railing), especially the picturesque fruit and vegetable store-on-water operating along the adjacent fondamenta.

Ponte dei Pugni Brad Nixon (640x462)

According to legend, fruit and vegetable sellers have been tying up there for more than 500 years. Knowing where to buy a fresh snack in the confusing labyrinth of Venice is a useful piece of information on a long day of walking. Note to non-Italian shoppers: Don’t pick up the fruit in any stall or store. It’s not self-serve. Say hello to the vendor, ask for what you want (or point and say, “per favore,”) and they’ll get it for you.

Everywhere one travels is replete with endless, fascinating details when you take the time to look around. Admittedly, Venice may have more marvels per square foot than most places, and rewards the inquisitive visitor manyfold.

That map above provides general orientation. When you visit Venice, you’ll almost certainly be in Dorsoduro at some point, probably to visit the vast art collection of the Accademia Gallery (map, black rectangle) and perhaps the Peggy Guggenheim, nearby. You’ll be only a few hundred feet from Lo Squero di San Trovaso and a few hundred yards from Campo San Barnaba. As for exact directions … I won’t tell you. That’s where the fun is. Think of what you’ll discover on your own.

Have a favorite boat or waterborne experience in Venice? Leave a comment.

For a painstaking step-by-step tour guide of Dorsoduro, visit A Lover of Venice. My acknowledgement to them for clarifying that there are two boatyards in the area.

If you use Google Maps, be aware that you can use the “street view” function to navigate around Venice on the water, via boat, as in the photo of the bridge above.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Photo of Ponte dei Pugni and map © Google.



  1. Great post. Thank you for sharing your impressions from Venice! 🙂
    Warm greetings from Norway,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Dina. I’m pleased to discover your work. You’re an excellent photographer and writer (although it will take me a long time to step through some of your work with my rudimentary German). I look forward to discovering more.


  2. I’ve always wanted to know more about the workings of the boatyards, I think I’d better investigate the visits!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How interesting! As usual, I love the pictorial tour!


  4. I have been in a Venice gondola only once, and that was with The Counselor and a certain UWS blogger! I thank them for that once in a lifetime experience, as they safely guided me through Venice in this unique mode of travel. That was nearly 17 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday (or even this morning). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Make Italy Yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grazie mille, Stefania. I’m extremely flattered to be selected.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful commentary. I learned so much about Venice! Grazie mille!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Prego. Thank you for visiting Under Western Skies.


Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: