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If you're here at the Arsenal, it's probably because you came to the area to see the Biennale, and it's precisely this vicinity to the Biennale gardens that has given the the old industrial installations new life after decades of neglect and decay. The Arsenal occupies about 46 hectares in the sestiere, or district, named Castello: this is a huge area, especially in a city where, if you think about it, space is a precious commodity.

This boat production complex was established shortly after the year 1000, and became the most highly concentrated workforce throughout Europe, reaching approximately 3,000 employees. Just think, the Arsenal's chief engineer was the public official who received the highest salary of anyone working for the Republic of Venice. He was at the head of a perfect organization, and oversaw a process which began with the sending of wood from the forests and sawmills of the Dolomites and guaranteed the launch and maintenance of an extraordinary number of ships; Venetian engineers were constantly looking for new solutions to make ships evermore capacious, fast, and safe.

There were two entrances to the Arsenal: by sea, passing between two brick towers, and by land, passing through a sixteenth-century triumphal arch surrounded by Baroque statues and gates preceded by the "Terrace of the lions", with four ancient stone lions.

The Arsenal complex is still operated by the Navy, but you can see it from the water thanks to a line of vaporettos that pass through the internal docks, the Rio delle Galeazze, and the so-called "Old Arsenal". If you go during the Biennale, you'll have the opportunity to see buildings dating back mostly to the 1500s, when the Arsenal was radically restructured due to the impressive productive efforts for the battle of Lepanto of 1571. You'll see the "Gaggiandre", or sheds that overlook the water worksites, the "tese" where the guns and ammunition were guarded, and the "corderie" where the ropes for sails, shafts, and anchors were made.


FUN FACT: this place was so famous throughout Europe that even the great Dante Alighieri opened a stanza of the Divine Comedy by comparing a circle of hell to "...the arsenal of the Venetians, boils in winter the tenacious pitch".

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