The large historic ships which made the Serenissima Republic so powerful deserve a chapter of their own. They were divided into two categories, round ships and narrow ships. The former, characterized by their bulging shape, were destined for sailing with goods which were not particularly valuable; the cocche venete belong to this family. The latter, the famous galleys (galee), were used for the spice trade, for transporting precious goods and as battleships.

The Galère (galleys) were propelled both by oars and imposing lateen sails. The oarsmen were initially made up of free men who were paid for each voyage, but then, due to the lack of volunteers, prisoners were used who were condemned to row for the duration of their prison term. Living conditions were terrible: more than two hundred men had to eat, sleep and excrete on a narrow bench shared by other three or five companions. It was said that the hygenic conditions were so bad that before the galleys were sighted, they could be smelt.
The hull of the galèra was about 40m long with a width varying between 5 and 8m, it thus had a very high length/width ratio similar to the gondola. Another characteristic of the galleys were the sides which were so low that, to avoid capsizing, a rule was introduced to have sides of at least two Venetian feet (69.6 cm) on a fully-loaded 40m-long ship! It is difficult to imagine how they were able to navigate with sails having over 300 square metres surface area, and spars over 35 metres long without capsizing, but there are records which show that they regularly navigated not only in the Mediteranean (Turkey, Egypt and Spain) but also as far as England, Holland and Germany.
There were narrow galleys mainly for military use and wider galleys for trade. There were also larger variants such as the galeàzze used to start the battle of Lepanto, and smaller types such as the fuste and the galeòte.

Another historic ship is the Doge’s ceremonial boat, the Bucintoro, of which at least four similar examples were built over the centuries. The last, built in 1722, was an imposing vessel 100 Venetian feet long (34.8 m) which was decorated and gilded. The bucintoro had two decks: the lower deck was where the workers of the Arsenale rowed the 42 oars, the upper deck was reserved for the authorities, and at the stern on a special throne, the Doge. During the ceremony of the Sposalizio col mare, the Doge, at the entrance to the port of the Lido, threw a ring into the water which symbolized the Marriage of Venezia to the Sea.

Finally the bissòne are an ancient type of ceremonial boat, rowed by eight costumed oarsmen. The boat was sumptuously decorated with sculptures and allegorical carvings. It was used to display or receive important people. Even today, ten of these boats (reconstructions) make up the procession during the Regata Storica. The themes illustrated by thes boats are: Byzantine, Horses, China, Floral, Geographic, Neptune, Pescantina, Querini, Rezzonico, Venice. Body plans

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