The Arsenale


The Arsenale meaning the Arsenal of the mighty Venetian Republic (Arsenale di Venezia) was the heart of the Venetian naval industry from the thirteenth century. The Arsenale is closely linked to the golden period of the Serenissima. Thanks to the massive ships built there, Venice through the centuries was able at the beginning to control the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea (to safeguard the economic interest of its merchants) and later to compete with the Turks for the control of the Aegean and the Adriatic.

The Arsenale is the most important example of a large production complex with a centralized structure of the pre-industrial economy. Its surface is stretched over an area of 46 hectares, while the number of workers (the Arsenalotti) reached, during periods of full production activity, the share daily average of 1500 to 2000 units – with a peak of 4500-5000 recorded in Book of the Workforce (in Italian, Libro Delle Maestranze).

With high walls shielding the Arsenale from public view and guards protecting its perimeter, laborers and shipbuilders regularly worked within it, building ships that sailed from the city’s port. Different areas of the Arsenale each produced a particular prefabricated ship part or another maritime implement, such as munitions, rope, and armaments.

These parts could then be assembled into a ship in as little as one day. An exclusive forest owned by the Arsenal navy, in the Montello hills area of Veneto, provided the Arsenale’s wood supply along with the area of Cadore.

The Arsenale produced the majority of Venice’s maritime trading vessels, which generated much of the city’s economic wealth and power, lasting until the fall of the Serenissima to Napoleon’s conquest of the area in 1797.

The Arsenale had almost anticipated by centuries the modern concept of the factory: in fact, if on the one hand skilled workers were trying to prepare standard components and performed in succession the individual assembly operations of an artifact, on the other never came to conceive the assembly line as it has been known since the beginning of ‘900.

The buildings and production areas retained their original function until the beginning of World War I and were subjected, because of the development of shipbuilding techniques, to constant physical and functional adaptations.

During the first two decades of the ‘900, the inability to adapt to the needs of the great spaces of the nascent industry has made improper maintenance of productive activities in the lagoon area and resulted in its transfer to the mainland.

The spacious rooms of the rope factory are currently used as one of the venues of the Venice Biennale, as well as some of the activities of small boat building and other minor activities. (Description by