Nestled in the district of Castello, the Venetian Arsenal is one of Venice’s most iconic monuments. Yet the interior of this huge complex remains inaccessible to the general public and visitors will only be able to admire the Arsenal from outside!
Find out everything there is to know about this gigantic shipyard in the heart of the City of the Doges! ⛵
The term “arsenal” derives from the Arabic “Dar-al sina” which means “workshop.”
Short history lesson
The origins of the Venetian Arsenal
In 1104, Doge Ordelafo Faliero decided that Venice needed a shipyard to reinforce the city’s sea power and created the Venetian Arsenal.
Over the following centuries, the complex was expanded multiple times. It now spans an area of 332,000 square metres, covering 15% of Venice!
The Venetian Arsenal in the 14th and 15th centuries
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Arsenal played a key role in making the Republic of Venice a major military and trading power.
The shipyard’s prosperity was based on a complex system invented by the Venetian state to finance the city’s fleet:
- it made it possible to make military ships more profitable by dedicating them to trading activities during peacetime;
- it also enabled the Venetians to invest in the ships as shareholders. The costs and risks of chartering ships were thus shared between all the shareholders.
Building on its economic and military success, the Venetian Arsenal turned to innovations and started designing new ships, like the galleon.
Assembly lines at the Venetian Arsenal
At its peak, the Venetian Arsenal employed 16,000 workers and developed a working system that was strikingly similar to what would later be called ‘assembly lines’. To save time, tasks were divided and standardised.
In the 17th century, the Venetian Arsenal could build one boat per day which was a technical exploit!
The Venetian Arsenal in the hands of the French and Austrians
In 1797, the Republic of Venice was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Over the next 70 years, Venice fell in turn in the hands of the French and the Austrians, who plundered the Arsenal before carrying out major renovation works.
In 1866, the Italian military navy regained possession of the shipyard.
The Venetian Arsenal today
Today, the Venetian Arsenal remains the property of the Italian navy, although parts of the complex belong to the city of Venice. Since 1999, the Arsenal has been opening its doors to visitors once a year, during the Biennale.
⚓ Attention, sailors! ⚓
Looking for more tips and suggestions for your trip to Venice ? Check out the Capitain’s article on the best things to do in Venice!
Visiting the Venetian Arsenal
Even though visitors cannot enter the Venetian Arsenal, it would be a pity not to have a look at this iconic monument during your trip to Venice. This huge shipyard is indeed most definitely worth a short detour!
The Arsenal is located in the district of Castello.
The Arsenal’s main gate
The Arsenal’s main gate (Porta Magna ) was built in 1460. Designed by Venetian Architect Antonio Gambello in the shape of a triumphal arch, the Arsenal’s main gate is considered the oldest example of Renaissance architecture in Venice.
The winged lion statue surmounting the arch of the door, which is attributed to the artist Bartolomeo Bon, is an allusion to St. Mark, holy patron of Venice. The railing is adorned with statues of ancient deities.
On both sides of the central arch, two winged statues were added in 1571 following the victory of the Venetian fleet against Turkish forces in Lepanto.
The door is also flanked by four marble lion statues which were stolen in Greece and brought back to Venice in 1683.
The Arsenal’s Canal
The Venetian Arsenal can also be entered by boat, via the Arsenal Canal (the Rio dell’Arsenale in Italian).
The navigable entrance, located right next to the main gate, is flanked by two square towers dating from 1686.
The Museo Storico Navale
A stone’s throw form the Venetian Arsenal, the Museo Storico Navale (Naval History Museum) is an interesting addition to the Arsenal’s visit.
It will particularly delight sailing enthusiasts, who will be able to discover the history of the Venetian navy, as well as a collection ship models of all kinds.
The entrance ticket to the Museo Storico Navale also includes access to the Ship Pavilion where visitors can admire authentic Venetian boats.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Exploring the surroundings of the Venetian Arsenal
A detour to the Venetian Arsenal is the perfect opportunity to to explore the district of Castello, which is unanimously regarded as the most authentic sestiere in Venice.
Castello shows a different side of Venice, less lavish and touristy but more genuine.
When in Castello, be sure to check out:
- the Via Garibaldi
- the Church of San Zaccaria
- the Church of San Zanipolo
- the Church of San Francesco della Vigna
- the Church of Santa Maria Formosa
If you don’t want to miss out on any of the top sights in Castello, you can also opt for a guided tour of the district. Captain Ulysses recommends this tour in particular, which is available in English, French and Italian: guided tour in the district of Castello.
The Venetian Arsenal is located in the heart of Castello, a ten-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square.
The nearest vaporetto station is Arsenale (easy to remember!)
Want more tips and suggestions to help you plan your stay in Venice? Take a look at the Captain’s other articles on the ‘Serenissima’:
- The Doge’s Palace
- The Bridge of Sighs
- St. Mark’s Basilica
- The Grand Canal
- The Rialto Bridge
- The Gallerie dell’Accademia
- The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
- The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
Venice is a very touristy city and you’ll have plenty hotels to choose from, but, be warned: they are overall rather expensive. If your budget is tight, Captain Ulysses suggests staying in Mestre, just outside of Venice, where hotels are much more affordable and you’ll find regular buses to Venice. Find out more here. For intermediate budgets, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Hotel Le Isole: ideally located a few steps from St. Mark’s Square, this beautiful hotel boasts spacious and elegant rooms. And if you’re looking for a more luxurious option in Venice, then Captain Ulysses most definitely recommends the Londra Palace nestled in a Venetian palace on the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Tickets, guided tours, gondola tours, day-trips… There are plenty of things to do in Venice. But the city is often packed with tourists, which is why Captain Ulysses recommend that you book your activities online and opt for skip-the-line tickets. The Captain suggests having a look at Musement and Tiqets, which are online platforms specialised in selling tourist activities worldwide.
Venice is synonymous gondola and vaporetto. As an accomplished sailor, Captain Ulysses can only recommend that you embark on a boat ride on the Venetian canals. But beware of cams: some gondoliers tend to take advantage of tourists! That’s why the Captain advises that you book your boat tour on a reputable website like here or here.
If you’re planning on visiting all of Venice’s top sights, Captain Ulysses recommends you to opt for a Citypass,which will give you access to a selection of the city’s must-see sights and monuments. There’s a variety of citypasses to choose from. Find out more here.
To get to Venice from the airport, you’ll have four poptions: the bus, the vaporetto (orange Alilaguna Arancio line), the taxi or the water taxi. It’s up to you to choose the option that works best for you! 🙂 Be aware, however, that the historic centre is pedestrian, and buses and taxis are not allowed to operate there.
Get ready to walk. The historic centre is not accessible to buses or cars. The local type of public transport is the vaporetto: boats travelling on the water. If you’re planning on using the vaporetto regularly (in Venice or to visit the surrounding islands like Murano and Burano), or if you are staying in Mestre and have to take the bus to Venice everyday, you might want to consider opting for a Public Transport Pass. You can book it here.
Venice is a city easily accessible by plane, train and bus. To book your plane tickets, Captain Ulysses recommends Skyscanner, which allows you to compare countless flights to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible. Overnight trains are also a great way to save time (and money) ! For more information, visit Trainline.com.
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