To this day, the squero of San Trovaso is home to the extraordinary artisans who built La Serenissima’s iconic boats
Have you ever wondered where the gondoliers of Venice take their vessels when they are in need of some maintenance?
There is only one possible answer: to the squeri, the city’s ancient shipyards, the place where wooden boats are built and repaired. According to various sources, the etymology of the name could derive from the Venetian word squara, which means "set square", a very important tool for shipwrights. Others, however, believe that the term derives directly from the Greek ἐσχάριον (eschárion), ‘construction site’. The squeri were once numerous and could be found everywhere in the city, as attested by the city’s toponymy: the street name ‘Calle del Squero’ recurs repeatedly in most of Venice’s sestrieri. In particular, there were many in the districts of Castello, Dorsoduro and Giudecca. Over time, as the number of rowing boats declined – they are now only used as a tourist attraction or for sports – and new construction materials such as plywood and fiberglass gained favour, the activity of the squeri has drastically decreased. The yards, varying in size, are connected to the water by a sloping ramp or a slide which enables the dry-docking of the vessels. Often, they also include buildings where the boats can be sheltered during bad weather.
The number of Venice’s squerarioli, shipwrights, or ‘masters of the axe’ as they are known in Italy, has also decreased sharply over the years. Today, however, many of the remaining shipyards are public, offering the citizens of Venice the possibility of dry-docking their boats for repairs.
Among the shipyards still in business, the most famous is certainly the Squero of San Trovaso, in the Dorsoduro district. It is housed inside a very unusual looking building, which reminds one of a mountain chalet. The timber used for shipbuilding comes from the alpine region of Cadore; so, partly as a tribute, partly because the canopied structure proved to be very functional, the Squero came to acquire its unusual and striking appearance.
But let's not forget: this extraordinary shipyard is still a lively and busy working site and the opposite bank, the Fondamenta di San Trovaso, is the perfect vantage point from which to admire a place where time seems to have stopped. With our gaze fixed on the timeless spectacle of the squerarioli working around a Dima, the particular mould used to create and maintain the framework of each gondola, we pause to savour the timeless atmosphere of this special place, lulled by the sounds of splashing water and workmen singing, refreshed by a chilled glass of Le Rive di Ogliano.