The gondolas are a popular attraction in Venice, Italy.  It has been theorized that gondolas have been used since around 697 AD, but only 1094 AD has been a confirmed year of early use due to documentation.  The early need for gondolas were due to the lagoons in Venice.   Because of the shallow areas and mud flaps, the boats were crafted to float easily in low water levels.  In the earlier installments of these boats there were small, enclosed cabins called “felze” with wide uses for the passengers.  They could shield from the rain or sun and protect the riders’ privacy.  This was sometimes used to help criminals escape as well.  And for now the tradition stands that men drive the gondolas with a single oar.  Women are allowed to test to become gondola drivers, but so far none have passed these tests.

Gondolas are more complex than a simple boat.  They are now designed to have the off center imbalanced look by weighing the boats against the drivers.  They are also made from eight different types of wood (cherry, oak, walnut, elm, mahogany, lime larch, and fir).  The oars are made from beech and each gondola has a rowlock to allow different types of maneuvers.

The most common uses for gondolas today are mainly tourist attractions, weddings, and quick crossings of the Grand Canal.  Most of them have a dark finish and a clean, decorated look to them.







If you live in America, chances are high that you’ve had pizza before.  But it definitely wasn’t anywhere near the true Italian pizza!

Pizza originated as simple flatbread created by people of ancient Greece, Babylon, Egypt, Israel, and Rome.  Some believed that the Jewish Matzoth, a simple type of flatbread, introduced it to Italy.  The flatbreads in these times were used as edible bowls and were easily made with just water and flour.  Other ingredients were introduced to start making the familiar pizza we know today.  Herbs, spices, and olive oil were the first things to be added to the flatbread to give it some flavor.  Next was mozzarella cheese from Indian water buffalo.  And unlike the cheese we Americans are used to, this cheese is fresh and not dried out.  Tomatoes were the last things to be introduced.  They were thought to be poisonous at the time and then soon became a “peasant food.”  Tomatoes were eventually brought into the aristocratic society and they became a part of this beloved dish soon after.

So what’s so different about the Italian pizza?  One was mentioned: the cheese.  Most American places used processed cheese in their recipes, while the mozzarella used in Italian pizzas are fresh.  The ways the two are cooked are also drastically different.  Traditional Italian pizzas are baked in an open wood fire oven, opposed to a regular, electric oven.  And last but not least, the toppings vary.  In Italy, toppings range from just cheese and spices to vegetables and anchovies, to boiled eggs and bacon.  A much wider variety is available for any set of taste buds.

If you ever visit Italy, make sure you don’t leave without trying a true Italian pizza…or two or three or six.






The Black Death in Italy

One thing I have always had an odd obsession with is the history of the Black Death.  It was a major event in history and the way people handled the outbreak has always interested me.  So for this blog entry I will focus on its spread to Italy.

            The Black Death started in Mongolian Desert in the 1320s before making its way to China and then to Italy.  Italy was the first of Europe to obtain the disease and therefore was blamed for its cause. Because of Italy’s numerous trade routes, it was the first country to contain major contractions of the sickness.  In other neighboring countries, Italian travelers and residences were killed in fear that they would somehow spread the disease (even though most of these people wouldn’t have had it).

            The Black Death itself is a disease caused by a bacterium that is carried by rats and transferred by fleas.  Because rats were prominent on ships, the illness spread easily from trade route to trade route (same as a virus being spread by planes today).  The disease had early signs such as fatigue, fever, and aching, but the more famous signs were in the more developed stages: swollen and blackened lymph nodes called buboes, and coughing up blood.

            Treatments of the plague actually led to a larger spread of it and more deaths.  Bleeding was a popular treatment at the time and caused more people to become infected or bleed out.  Similarly, doctors would break open the buboes to drain the fluids, but that is where most bacteria lived.

            Italy suffered the main portion of the plague between its initial arrival in Europe and becoming the blame of the disease’s existence by the rest of Europe.  The plague passed around 1350, but Italy had the most deaths per area due to its dense population.  About 1/3 of its population was wiped out.

            I feel it is important to know about the Black Death because of its medical relevance on how disease is spread and treated, but also because it had a major impact on the populations.  Anyone who has Italian descent remember: the blood of a plague survivor runs in your veins!




& Previous knowledge