Arsenal (Venice)

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The Ingresso all'Acqua gate of the Arsenal
Portal Ingresso di terra
North entrance and Canale delle Galeazze

Arsenal is the name of the shipyard , armory and naval base of the former Republic of Venice . The name arsenal comes from the Arabic darsiná-a for "workplace".


Construction of the arsenal began in 1104 under Doge Ordelaf Falier . The property consisted of two marshy islands in the Castello district . This shipyard, which can be regarded as the largest production company in Europe before the age of industrialization (see economic history of the Republic of Venice ), became the model for other naval arsenals in Europe. The area now covers 32 hectares, one tenth of the historic center of Venice.

Quale nell'arzana de 'Viniziani
bolle l'inverno la tenace pece
a rimpalmare i legni lor non sani
chè navigar non ponno; - in quella vece
chi fa suo legno novo e chi ristoppa
le coste a quel che più viaggi fece.
Same as one in Venice's arsenal
The bad luck in winter looks simmering,
With what the leaky ship, sometimes
Already crossed the sea with storms,
Caulking is done - now the one in a hurry stuffs
Use tow to make the holes on the side arch.

This is how Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) described the bustling activity in the arsenal of Venice in the Divine Comedy (Inferno, XXI. Canto, 7th – 12th verse). Anyone who has the opportunity to visit the Arsenal today will not find any traces of this teeming industry in the largest industrial company that existed there at the time.

In the course of Venice's rise to European maritime power, the arsenal was expanded several times: in 1325 by the Arsenale nuovo , in 1475 by the Arsenale nuovissimo . In 1539 the basin for the galeasses , which had up to 1,000 gross tons and a crew of 400 men, was completed.

In addition to the ship's basin, the joiner's shops , the caulking systems and a long rope hall in which the ship's ropes were turned, the arsenal also contained ore and foundry smelters as well as powder stores and the weapons depot, which required strict surveillance of the workforce by the Venetian security police. The arsenal worked extremely efficiently. As early as the 14th century, the galleys were produced in strictly rationalized workflows. Every merchant ship was designed in such a way that it could be converted into a warship in a very short time.

The components for the galleys were standardized, prefabricated and stored in the depot so that 25 ships could be made ready for use in a very short time. For the naval battle of Lepanto in the war against the Turks, 100 galleys were built in the Arsenal in 1570 within two weeks.

This efficiency was only possible through tight organization. The highest directors of the arsenal ( Capi supremi , Provveditori , also called Patroni dell 'Arsenale ) were always elected members of the Grand Council for a limited period . They lived in three palazetti called Paradiso, Purgatorio (purgatory) and Inferno (hell). There was a multitude of craftsmen such as ship carpenters, pecher (caulkers), mast constructors, sailmakers, blacksmiths, foundry workers, as well as for the gunpowder and the armament. The workers were organized in guilds ( arti ) and usually worked in groups under masters ( proti ) as a kind of subcontractor. They were well respected, well paid and enjoyed a number of privileges to prevent them from migrating to the competition. Housing was also made available to the workers in the so-called Marinaressa, a complex of buildings that lies between Via Garibaldi and Riva dei Sette Martiri.

The wood used to build the ships came either from Istria or the Cadore .


The arsenal was surrounded by walls and towers like a fortress, to which there were only two entrances until 1806.

Ingresso all'Acqua water gate

It is flanked by two towers built in 1574 and could be closed by a portcullis. Shipping traffic to the Mediterranean via the bacino was handled through this gate .

Ingresso di Terra portal gate

The entrance gate is next to the water gate. It was built in its current form in 1460, at the instigation of Doge Pasquale Malipiero , in the manner of a triumphal gate , to show that the fame and fortune of Venice emanated from this place. It is the first example of the Renaissance style in the lagoon . The portal is crowned by a gable with the relief of a striding lion who holds the book closed - because of the warlike function of the building - and without the usual inscription pax tibi in its paws. There is a figure of Justice at the top of the gate . The inscription on the gate recalls the naval battle of Lepanto , which was mainly won by the Venetian fleet. The entrance stairs are flanked by eight allegorical figures . The two huge antique lions to the right and left of the stairs are loot that the general Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck brought to Venice from Greece under the 108th Doge Francesco Morosini in 1687. The lion on the left, three meters high , had been near Athens in Porto Leone ( Piraeus ) for two thousand years .

Porta Nuova

Porta Nuova to the lagoon, r. the Torre di Porta Nuova

Under Napoleon , the arsenal was converted into a modern shipyard from 1806, which was designed for larger warships than in the time of the republic. For these ships with up to 80 cannons, which were no longer built in the hall but in an open shipyard, Napoleon had 12 covered workshops demolished and a new direct access was built through the surrounding wall, from which the arsenal was accessible from the Laguna has been. Next to this Porta Nuova , the new water gate, a tower, the Torre di Porta nuova, was built. The tower served as a base for the cranes that installed or removed the masts of the ships.

Works of art

The arsenal contains the marble monuments of General Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck (from 1688) and of Field Marshal Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg (from 1747).

Today the arsenal houses the command academy of the Italian Navy (Istituto di Studi Militari Marittimi) and a naval museum ( Museo storico navale ). During the art and architecture biennial , rooms are also used for exhibition purposes.


The Venediger Arsenal served the Danish architect Theophil von Hansen as a model for the construction of the Imperial and Royal Court Weapons Museum (today: Army History Museum ) in the Vienna Arsenal .


Web links

Commons : Arsenal (Venice)  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
  • Arsenale di Venezia. In: (official website of the city of Venice; Italian).
  • Albert Ottenbacher: The Arsenal. Brief history of the arsenal with over 40 photos. In:, October 28, 2001, accessed on December 16, 2019.

Individual evidence

  1. Lutz Mohr : The "Marble Lion of the Vikings" in Venice - The only monument of its kind in the world. In: Stone Cross Research (SKF). Studies on German and international land monument research. Edited by Rainer H. Schmeissner. Series B (anthologies), anthology no. 24 (NF 9), Regensburg 1997, pp. 136-139.
  2. L'arsenale militare marittimo di Venezia. In:, accessed on December 16, 2019 (Italian).

Coordinates: 45 ° 26 ′ 7 ″  N , 12 ° 21 ′ 11 ″  E