Though opinions vary regarding the etymology of the word, it is certain that the name appeared for the first time in some 1094 documents. Several paintings show how the Gondola evolved from an ordinary boat to gradually become how is today.
The current form was achieved in the 17th century. Initially Gondolas were steered by two men, each with an oar, successive variations attempted to make it easier to operate by a single oarsman. Noblemen and the upper middle class made it a symbol of their wealth, embellishing it with designs and marquetry, lining it with silk and satin. Even the tail coats of the gondoliers were refined in gold.
A wooden cabin, the Felze, provided shelter for the passengers, protecting them from the cold and maintaining their privacy. Equipped with side Windows and drapes, mirrors and a warming pan, the band adorned with inlay booth was covered with black cloth.
The ostentatiousness reached such an extreme that the Senate called for fines to be imposed on crafts too richly outfitted, an ordinance that proved to be useless. The color black was imposed on gondolas and gondoliers by an act.