Tourist Guide Venice

The Arsenal

It is rare to find a location in Venice where the directions ‘straight ahead’ are included. Here comes one of those rare exceptions: From Doge’s palace walk straight ahead along the Riva degli Schiavoni – past the famous Hotel Danieli and Londra Palace – and finally arrive at the Arsenal. This is the name of the historic shipyard that for many hundreds of years was of vital importance for the maritime republic of Venice. Its area covers about ten percent of the historic centre.

The Arsenal
Source:        Photographer: Thomas Max Müller

The construction of the Arsenal began in the year 1104 under the authority of the Doge Ordelaf Falier. Originally the site consisted only of two marshy islands in the district of Castello. During the course of its long history as a shipyard, arsenal, naval base and gun-powder depot the Arsenal was expanded several times. Whoever visits the freely accessible Arsenal today will need a little imagination to draw out an image of the activity that once occurred there.

After centuries of zealous activity the Arsenal today appears quiet- almost deserted and is now more of a place where one can find peace from the hectic of Venice. During its best of times, around 30,000 people worked tirelessly on a daily basis to build and maintain the ships that the maritime republic of Venice needed for control over the Mediterranean. There is hardly an area of history in which the Arsenal did not play a certain role. For the history of the economy for instance, it represented the largest manufacturing plant that ever existed in Europe before industrialisation. In literary history it is none other than Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) who extolled the Arsenal in his the ‘Divine Comedy’ and impressively described the noise, heat and pressure production. In architectural history it is both towers to the left and right of the entrance to the Arsenal (Ingresso all’Acqua) that caused a furore; they are the first buildings in Venice to have been built in the style of the Renaissance.

Here is an example to give an idea of what once occurred in the now almost unreal Arsenal: in the year 1570 the Venetians fought against the Turks. Within two weeks 100 galleys were built within the Arsenal for the naval battles. This was only possible through extremely efficient organisation. All components of the galleys were standardised and were kept in the wings of the Arsenal till needed. Even Venice’s merchant fleet had to stop here in emergencies. The merchant ships were so cleverly constructed that they could easily be converted into war ships.

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