Mar
2022
,
Luisella Romeo
Article by Luisella Romeo

Tours in Venice for the blind and visually impaired visitors: the Boat tour

 

Visiting Venice with blind people

Touring Venice for a blind or visually impaired person can be a challenge. Uneven paved streets and irregular stairs of a bridge, not to mention canals and sidewalks without parapets may give the idea that Venice is a difficult city to explore for someone with visual issues. Therefore, I decided to attend a specific course run by the Unione italiana dei ciechi e degli ipovedenti – UICI, Italian Association of the blind and visually impaired. It was important to learn techniques to arrange tours for blind people, a very interesting experience for me as it truly opened my eyes and introduced me to opportunities I only understood superficially.

Observing and experiencing Venice with blind visitors

Given the fact that even being able to see does not necessarily mean you can observe and taking for granted that all tours are fine for blind or partially sighted visitors (the technique and the approach are different, of course), I have thought of two particular tours, which I hope will be particularly appreciated for anyone focusing on the senses of touching, hearing and smelling (and tasting). One is about boats and rowing. Another one is about the history of Carnival, masks and chocolate tasting (click here for the link).

A tour for the blind in Venice: the boat tour

Venice is a city where, without boats, there would be nothing. Boats were the means to transport the merchandise from the Far East, the African coast, Palestine and the Byzantine world to Venice. And furthermore, from Venice to several European cities and ports. Without boats, you would not be able to navigate in the canals of the city, bring around people and goods. It was with boats that all construction materials reached Venice and allowed this city to be built.

This tour introduces you to the whole world of boat builders and to the art of rowing in the Venetian way, standing and face forward.

Oars and oarlocks in Venice

We will begin our tour learning how Venetians developed the tools to row, namely the oars and the oarlocks.

In the photo there are some oars present in the workshop run by Piero Dri in Cannaregio.
In the photo there are some oars present in the workshop run by Piero Dri in Cannaregio.

The oars vary according to the boat, if you row by the prow or by the stern. They are made of different kinds of wood and the shape on one side is angled and it is called “diamond” so to move in the water at the best.

The oars in Venice are shaped in a special way, the upper part is called “diamond” and is designed according to the boat you will row and allows to move in the shallow water of the Venetian canals moving gently, shifting the right quantity of water so that with small and kind movements, boats, even the heavy ones, move on.

The oarlock is called “forcola”, a word that sounds like “fork”. It can be made in walnut, cherry or even pear wood and its shape changes according to your height, how fast you want to row, to your specific boat and which side of the boat you will row, either the prow or the stern. Touching the “forcola” is a true joy. You follow the smooth form and understand that according to where you put the oar you can manoeuvre the boat as you like! And do not leave the “forcola” on the boat, this precious piece of wood is like the keys of your car…

In this photo you can find some “forcole”, namely oarlocks for the Venetian boats in the workshop run by Piero Dri in Cannaregio. Noteworthy are the different shapes and sizes of these objects in wood, mainly walnut, but also in cherry or in pear wood.
In this photo you can find some “forcole”, namely oarlocks for the Venetian boats in the workshop run by Piero Dri in Cannaregio. Noteworthy are the different shapes and sizes of these objects in wood, mainly walnut, but also in cherry or in pear wood.

 

In the photo Piero Dri shows different phases of the carving of a 'forcola', so you will be able to understand the steps that turn a piece of wood into a ready to use oarlock.
In the photo Piero Dri shows different phases of the carving of a ‘forcola’, so you will be able to understand the steps that turn a piece of wood into a ready to use oarlock.

 

A gondola museum

We will then visit a magical place, a sort of a museum of the gondola in an ancient boatyard. Imagine small boats models in wood and real tools, some no longer used: you will be able to touch a lot of different objects regarding the world of Venetian boats and learn how the gondola changed throughout the centuries. But also how many different traditional boats have been designed in Venice to welcome the needs of fishermen, gondoliers and merchants. Also, why not, you will learn new words, such as mascareta, puparin, sandalo, caorlina…

The rudders of the Venetian boats are here hanging on the walls of the Association “Arzanà”. They are used for the so-called “vela al terzo” (sail on the third) boats, namely sailing boats where the main sail is positioned at the height of two thirds of the mast.
The rudders of the Venetian boats are here hanging on the walls of the Association “Arzanà”. They are used for the so-called “vela al terzo” (sail on the third) boats, namely sailing boats where the main sail is positioned at the height of two thirds of the mast.

The rudders of the Venetian boats are here hanging on the walls of the Association “Arzanà”. They are used for the so-called “vela al terzo” (sail on the third) boats, namely sailing boats where the main sail is positioned at the height of two thirds of the mast.

Rowing and experiencing Venice on a boat

Finally, what else?, you will experience the rowing itself! Standing, face forward with your oar placed in the oarlock, you will learn how to row.

The Association “RowVenice” arranges rowing classes for all ages. In this photo some participants are learning how to hold the oar, how to move it in the water and how to row around the canals in Venice on a traditional Venetian rowing boat in wood.
The Association “RowVenice” arranges rowing classes for all ages. In this photo some participants are learning how to hold the oar, how to move it in the water and how to row around the canals in Venice on a traditional Venetian rowing boat in wood.

 

This sounds difficult, but it is easier than you think. Or, if you prefer so, you will simply sit on a traditional boat while you are taken on a ride across the canals of Venice. You will then listen to the sound of the water, learn the movements as well as the vocal signals that you need to know in order to find your way in the Venetian traffic. Venice from the water is a very different experience from the way you feel Venice when you walk. Just water being gently splashed, its smell, sometimes not too pleasant, with the seagulls mewing or making different sounds. And no obstacles.

Luisella Romeo
Best Venice Guides
www.seevenice.it

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