"L'Arsenale ? Venezia?s glorious naval past" Top 5 Page for this destination Arsenale Tip by Trekki

Arsenale, Venice: 24 reviews and 58 photos

Arsenale ? the fascinating mystical secret former shipyard of Venice. In a way Venice would not be what it is today with all the marvellous palaces, the art and the beautiful churches if it would not have been for its naval power.

Of all the sights and attractions in Venice, Arsenale was very high on my wish list because I just love any kind of ?cradle? of manufacturing processes (not as they are now but as they begun). Arsenale was the core and backbone, the place where the money was generated which we all see in the wealth of buildings and art today. It started early, in 12th century, but those days only private ships were built. The start of the mass ship building started in 13th century, when a large quantity of ships were being ordered for the Fourth Crusade. The area was subsequently expanded and over the next centuries it was the largest ship manufacturing centre of the by then known world. Very likely it was also the largest employer for centuries. I have read that more than 16.000 arsenalotti worked here, specialists for any step in ship building. Quite quickly they developed a very efficient way to produce approximately one ship per day, by having special workshops for the special parts of the ships: the wooden body parts, the assembling, blacksmiths for any kind of iron work, a rope factory, weavers for the sails, and even bakeries for the food on board. Considering that this all happened between 13th and 18th century, some today?s companies could learn a thing or two from them :-). The workers were treated very well by the city: they were paid according to a legally established minimum wage, had free housing, inside the Arsenale complex, had tax benefits, social security such as health care. The only thing they had to do is to work there all their lives and had to give a disclosure agreement. Again not that bad for 13-18th century, given that my country Germany introduced minimum wages not before 2014. The secrecy was necessary because ships and maritime business was backbone for trade and war of these days. Each secret how to master building the best boats had to be kept very carefully. Remember that this was the time where maritime dominance was fought over between Italy, Spain, Portugal and Great Britain.

The space Arsenale covers is approximately 15% of entire Venice (says Wikipedia). The power of shipbuilding Venice had declined after Napoleon?s troops ransacked the city. Since early 19th century, Arsenale fell into decay and even if it was used as naval base by the Italian army, but since their major base is elsewhere, nothing of importance happened there for many years.

When I was there in May 2007 I so hoped that I could succeed in getting permission to at least have a peek inside, but the guard was friendly but strict: no visit.
This might change soon because first of all over the years, a lot of Arsenale?s ground and halls were used during Biennale, and also some of the buildings are now used by companies with both maritime and civil use, such as Thetis S.p.a.. In the meantime also some private businesses such as cafes and restaurants have settled here. And I don?t give up hope that the entire complex will be accessible for visitors because in June 2014 a small group of local visitors was allowed to visit it; called ?First patrimonial walk through Arsenale?. A 17 minute YouTube video of this visit shows fascinating interior details of this so grand ship building past of Venice. They mention that plans are there to make it accessible for visitors, to learn about the way Arsenale worked in Venice?s glorious past. Interesting video!!

Vaporetto stop: Arsenale (almost all lines stop here):
Venice vaporetto map
Venice vaporetto schedule

Location of (1) Arsenale?s western walls, (2) Arsenale, (3) Arsenale?s entrance portal. (4) the bridge in front of the large area of Arsenale, (5) Museo Storico Navale, (6) Backstreet Castello and the fish scale on Bing Maps.

Ingrid D., July 2007 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.). Update June 2015: wording.

Address: Venezia, L'Arsenale (sestiere Castello)

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Nov 24, 2015
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Comments (4)

  • german_eagle's Profile Photo
    Feb 12, 2016 at 1:54 PM

    If open, then it would be a *must*!

    • Trekki's Profile Photo
      Feb 12, 2016 at 11:07 PM

      Oh yes!! I still hope that they make parts of it accessible (outside of Biennale)

  • wabat's Profile Photo
    Dec 26, 2015 at 2:09 AM

    Wow, one ship a day, thats amazing. Excellent review.

    • Trekki's Profile Photo
      Dec 26, 2015 at 8:53 AM

      Yes, they were fabulous strategists. I think you can imagine that I wished soo much to get inside. Ha, next time I might try sneaking in by swimming....if they still keep the gates closed.

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Oct 11, 2015 at 12:03 PM

    Fascinating account - and like Don I am amazed that they could produce one ship a day!!

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Jun 29, 2015 at 8:24 AM

    Amazing that they produced approximately one ship per day so very long ago!
    Yes, it would be great if the Arsenale could be made accessible to visitors.

    • Trekki's Profile Photo
      Jun 29, 2015 at 10:21 AM

      Yes, that is what I found so amazing, especially centuries before the assembly lines in car manufacturing were established. I so so hope that they make it accessible, I'd be among the first ones to book a flight and go. So far, the only way I can "see" its inside would be to watch Donna Leon's "Uniform Justice" over and over again :-)

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