Gondola & Boat: A Comparison of Istanbul and Venice


The two historic cities of Venice and Istanbul are often mentioned together, especially regarding the Middle Ages, although the distance between them is 1719 kilometers. These two old cities become an inseparable whole when the relations between the Ottoman and Venetian are examined. This relationship is almost like love which unites great friendships as well as great enmity. Many similarities between the two cities can be found, even though they existed in different geographies and different cultural atmospheres.

Venice and Istanbul

The history of both cities is very old. Historians must refer to these cities when writing World History. The cities have very close characteristics from the historical perspective and can also exhibit some similarities in geography.

Venice has different meanings not only for Italy but also for Europe. The city, which is the center of architecture and art, is one of the most important locations that ignites the renaissance that shaped Europe’s present. At the same time, it has been indispensable for photography enthusiasts, tourists and travelers for centuries, with the 118 islands created by connecting Venice channels, along with a very active commercial life.

Venice and Istanbul

19th century marker of the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice who commanded the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, inside the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

Binding Asia and Europe, Istanbul has always been the target of tribes, states and armies throughout history. Istanbul opened up an era with its location and historic accumulation when it was taken in 1453 by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. There are 8 different islands in Istanbul, called the city of islands. Surrounded by these islands, Istanbul is known as the Seven Crested Town. It is similar yet a smaller scale than the 118 islands that make up the present city in Venice.

Grand Canal and the Haliç (Golden Horn)

Venice is known especially for its canals today. A gondola can easily flow in Grand Canal (Canal Grande), which is a 4 km long and “S” shaped canal. In some areas of the channel, the depth reaches up to 5 meters. There are small canals towards the city and towards the other islands. Thus, almost all Venetian channels such as capillaries are connected by channels. Famous gondola tours allow you to travel within the city between these channels.

Grand Canal and the Haliç (Golden Horn)

Ferry ships and boat sail up and down the Golden Horn in Istanbul, Turkey.

There are not very small channels in Istanbul, as there are in Venice. However, once upon a time, there were many rivers in Istanbul that passed through the big districts. Golden Horn, with its natural beauty, divides the historical city into two and serves as the main artery like the Grand Canal. It has attracted many people for centuries and is indispensable for travelers and westerners. Haliç is known as Golden Horn and continues to host domestic and foreign tourists by boat, as is also done in Venice by gondola.

Gondola and Boat

Venice exhibits all the beauties of Europe. When Venice is uttered, people think of the gondolas, along with the gothic and Baroque style. The gondolas, which host tourists in the Grand Canal and the surrounding canals, actually shed light on a different history. The gondolas date back to the 8th or 9th centuries. In fact, the gondola is a natural result of the environment of the city.

Boat in Istanbul

Kayzer Wilhelm leaving Dolmabahçe Palace by boat (by Fausto Zonaro)

The Venetians staked pile into the shallow water near the city and they kept their important belongings at the bottom of these stakes in order to hide their valuable belongings and to get rid of intense pressure. Houses are located on the stakes. The Venice of the Grand Canal, which consists of 118 islands, is connected to hundreds of different channels. In the 16th century, over 10,000 gondolas were found in these channels, while the number of them was reduced to 400.

Two different peninsulas formed in Istanbul, and boats were used as a means of transportation in the period. Boats were also used in the transportation of passengers between Galata, Eminönü and Üsküdar. The number of boats identified in the 19th century was up to 10 thousand. These boats were accompanied with “market boat, barge boat, timber boat, horse boat” which were used in public, whereas “reign boat” and “sovereign boat” were used by Ottoman Sultans. Today, touristic tours are organized with the reigning boats.

Venice and Istanbul seem to be the same projection of two different cultures and geographies. In fact, their issues and problems are similar. The increasing traffic density around the canals, the fact that two gondolas cannot go side by side at the same time, the commercial ambition of the gondola operators, and the millions of tourists who flock to Venice slowly remind us that the traces of love, art and culture begin to disappear today. However, on the other hand, about 200 palaces around the Grand Canal are reminiscent of the palaces and mansions on the Golden Horn and other coasts in Istanbul. There is even a palace called Turkish Han (Fondaco dei Turchi), which was built in the 13th century near the Grand Canal.