Are you ready to explore one of the most fascinating and characteristic places of Venice?
The “floating city” has always been regarded as the lively center of flourishing markets and the enterprising protagonist of the trade scene in the Mediterranean area. But how managed a body of settlements born after the Huns’ arrival to become one of the mightiest powers of Europe? In order to answer this question, we’ll have to consider the geography of the territory. In fact, the city rises on the lagoon’s pacific water and dominates the Adriatic Sea, spread out on a mosaic of islands. Its specific position was clearly determining Venice’s destiny.
How is it possible to control routes and to fund an economy on maritime trade? The only way to achieve such an ambitious goal is to create an invincible and fearsome fleet. As we already know, when it comes to giving birth to titanic projects, the Serenissima Republic certainly is unrivaled. Not only did it organize an infallible and well-stocked fleet, but also provided the construction of one of its most outstanding architectures: the Arsenale (Italian: Arsenal), a complex of former shipyards and armories all clustered together.
Owned by the state, the Arsenale was responsible for the bulk of the Venetian Republic's naval power during the middle part of the second millennium AD and boasts the title of "one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in history". Doge Ordelaf Falier ordered its creation in 1104, and the whole building covers now 45 hectares, which corresponds to about fifteen percent of Venice. With high walls shielding the Arsenale from public view and guards protecting its perimeter, different areas of the Arsenale each produced a particular prefabricated ship part or other maritime implements, such as munitions, rope, and rigging. Venice’s commercial expansion relentlessly continued and at the end of the XIV century the Senate, perfectly aware of the shipyard’s strategic importance, required its enlargement. This was a period of incessant bitter disputes with another important maritime Republic that was determinately opposing the Serenissima, willing to appropriate the prestigious fame of “Queen of the Mediterranean Sea” for itself: Genova. Later on, a much more imminent rival would have threatened the general stability: the Ottoman Turks. The Arsenale faced the critical situation by tripling the number of ships; it is said that, at its peak period, the Arsenale employed some 16,000 people who apparently were able to produce nearly one ship each day, and could fit out, arm, and provision a newly built galley with standardized parts on a production-line basis not seen again until the Industrial Revolution. From 1797, came in succession the French and Austrian occupations. Unfortunately, significant parts of the Arsenale were destroyed under the Napoleonic rule and later rebuilt to enable the venue as a naval base. After Venice’s annexation to the Italian Kingdom, dated back to 1866, Queen Marina took care of the restoration of the entire building, skillfully finding a balance between the indispensable technical innovations and the monumental historical complex and allowing the Arsenale to give an essential contribution to the navy and to sustain the pursuing of the country’s defensive and offensive strategy during the First World War.
This dive into the Venetian ancient mindset and its enterprising background underlines how, especially in its last period of activity, the Arsenale used to be the focal center of martial projects. But how does this story go on in times of peace? Nowadays, this illustrious place is mainly used as a research center and an exhibition venue during the Venice Biennale and is home to a historic boat preservation center.
A symbol of innovation, tradition, accuracy, ambition and extraordinary inventions: the Arsenale has always been attracting eminent personalities such as Galileo Galilei, and its unique peculiarities were so outstanding and matchless that it was also mentioned in Dante’s Inferno. The poet dedicates memorable and sublimely detailed verses to the magnificent shipyard, immortalizing its glorious memory forever. Meccaniche Veneziane pays homage to this incomparable landmark, showing the aim to grow on the same path of beauty, precision, and unstoppable progress.
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