An ancient and mysterious Venetian gondola, with the Visconti coat of arms, founded at Villa Balbianello.
The name gondola has mysterious origins.
The Devoto-Oli attributes it to the crossing of the ancient Greek term kondura (a type
of boat) and the Italian d-ondola-re. Another hypothesis wants that the origin goes
back to the cymbal that in medieval times, in some eastern Mediterranean areas,
The first Venetian gondolas date back to the end of the‘400 beginning‘500, but only
towards the ‘700 the gondola has taken a more structured shape, similar to the one we
know today. For centuries it has represented a real status symbol all over Europe. It
seems that there were Venetian gondolas also in St. Petersburg.
The one preserved at the Museo Barca Lariana – Lake Como International Museum of
Vintage Boats has an extraordinary importance: not only is one of the oldest gondolas
existing, but it is also the best preserved in its originality.
A Venetian gondola built on Lake Como?
Towards the end of the ‘700 some Venetians shipwrights moved to the Lake Como to built
gondolas for the local aristocracy. Among them there were the Taroni’s family, who in
1970 opened in Carate Urio – Lake Como one of the most productive and refined shipyards of the time.
On the bow deck is clearly visible the Visconti coat of arms, a symbol linked with Milan
and its history: we find it in the shield of the Milan town hall, in the Milan
Football Club and in the logo of the historic car company Alfa Romeo.
According to a legend, written by Torquato Tasso in his masterpiece Gerusalemme
Liberata, the crusader Otto Visconti defeated a noble Muslim in a duel. Otto returned
to Milan with the shield of his rival, where a child was portrayed coming out of the
mouth of a snake. He therefore wanted to proclaim it symbol of his family.
This gondola was wanted by Cusani Visconti Botta Adorno, a passionate volunteer
lined up with the defenders of Venice during the Austrian siege of 1849.
In 1861 he married Giacomina Bassi, daughter of the Countess Marietta Trotti Bentivoglio and first cousin of Gian Martino Arconati, to whom she was very close.
Luigi Cusani, following a fashion trend and in memory of his Venetian enterprises, probably wanted to be built a gondola and, not having a villa on the lake, took advantage
of the hospitality at the dock of his wife’s cousin.
This explains the presence of a gondola with viscount weapon in the Arconati estate of
The construction of this gondola was assumed around 1860, when the Arconati Family
came back of Villa Balbianello property. Dynasty of ardent patriots, to avoid the retaliation of the Austrian police took refuge in Piedmont. They returned to Lake Como only
in 1860, after the Austrian defeat and the unification of Lombardy with the Kingdom of
Over the years, the gradual decline of the family caused the abandonment of the Villa
Balbianello and its treasures. The gondola was accidentally found in 1965 during the
restoration work commissioned by the new owners, an American family. It was hanging from the trusses of the roof of a building adjacent to the villa.
It seems that it was offred as a gift to the Civic Museum of Como, but was refused for
lack of space.
It is then sold to two carpenters: they planned to dismember it, recover the precious
inlays and reuse them in furniture of bar furniture.
The Museo Barca Lariana – Lake Como International Museum of Vintage Boats manages to save the boat with an incredible last-minute purchase.
Many other boats of Villa Balbianello were donated by Count Monzino, the last owner
of the villa, to the Museo Barca Lariana. These boats are still preserved here.