The Arsenale – Past Italia

In the eastern Castello district of Venice lies a huge dockyard where revolutionary building techniques took shipbuilding and military manufacturing into the next level


This dockyard has been thought to have existed on this site since the 12th century, and it boasts a significant role in Venice’s historical legacy, being an important example of pre-Industrial Revolution manufacture. The Arsenale was originally one of several dockyards which constructed and repaired both merchant and military ships.

From the 14th century the site was extended; new workshops were established to deal with the manufacture of firearms and military ships, and merchant vessels were built and serviced here. Within this important base Venice’s fleet of ships was built, maintained and refitted for each voyage – on such a large site (46 hectares at its peak) provisions and equipment were also stored here.

The mighty Arsenale employed up to 16,000 people in its production lines and other areas of work. The Venetians revolutionised shipbuilding here, employing new, streamlined construction techniques – and by the early 15th century they were able to build an entire ship each day.

The ornate gate of the Arsenale is widely considered the first Renaissance structure constructed in Venice. After the Napoleonic invasion of 1797, the Arsenale was partly demolished, but today it is still partly used as a naval base. The site now also has a research centre, a historic boat centre and is used a concert and art exhibition venue.