Nestled in the district of Castello, the Venetian Arsenal is one of Venice’s most iconic monuments. However, the interior of this huge complex remains inaccessible to the public and visitors can only admire it from the outside!
Follow the guide! ⛵
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
🧐 Want to know more about the history of Venice? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the city. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
💤 Looking for a hotel in Venice? Be sure to check out the Captain’s article: Where to stay in Venice? Advice & recommendations
🏛 Planning your trip to Venice? Be sure to check out Captain Ulysses’ complete article on what to see and do in the city: a Guide to Venice
👶 Planning a family adventure to Venice? Discover all of the Captain’s top tips in the article: Exploring Venice with the Kids: Family-Friendly Activities.
The term “arsenal” derives from the Arabic “Dar-al sina” which means “workshop.”
Brief history of the Venetian Arsenal
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 in 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 designed new ships like the galleon.
Assembly lines at the Venetian Arsenal
At its peak, the Venice 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 and efficiency, tasks were divided and standardised.
In the 17th century, the Venetian Arsenal could build one boat per day which was truly remarkable!
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 Venice Arsenal remains the property of the Italian Navy, although parts of the complex now belong to the city of Venice. Since 1999, the Arsenal opens its doors to the public during the Biennial.
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 statue of Saint Justina was added on top of the door in 1578.
The door is also flanked by four marble lion statues which were stolen in Greece and brought back to Venice. 1683.
The Arsenal’s Canal
The Venetian Arsenal also has an entrance dedicated to boats, which can reach the complex by sailing up the Arsenal Canal (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 you 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 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:
- Via Garibaldi
- the Church of San Zaccaria
- the Basilica 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 one 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!)
👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in Venice!
👉 Find the perfect place to stay in Venice!
👉 Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: Booking
⛵ Cruises: GetYourGuide
🚌 Local transport: Public Transport Pass