The Arsenale di Venezia occupies a big area of the Sestiere di Castello. From here sailed the great Venetian merchant and military fleets that made the Serenissima one of the first great maritime powers.
This area has been a location for shipyards, workshops, and warehouses since the 12th century.
The impressive military construction of the Arsenale was begun in 1104 and was continually extended from the 14th to the 16th century. It is surrounded by high walls with square towers bearing the insignia of the winged lion. During its golden age, more than 16.000 people worked at the Arsenale (equivalent to the population of a major Italian city in this period).
Working in teams and employing jealously guarded techniques, protected as a military secret, these skilled workmen (called arsenalotti) worked astonishingly fast.
When in 1570, Cyprus was threatened by the Turks, in just two months they produced 100 ships (more than one a day).
The Arsenale di Venezia has two docks and lots of huge buildings.
What became known as the Arsenale Vecchio (Old Arsenale) is the core of the whole complex, and occupies the area from the Porta dell'Arsenal (the land gateway) to the lagoon.
The biggest dock and the buildings around it were built from the 14th to the 16th century.
Among the most notable structures of the Arsenale di Venezia are the Porta dell'Arsenale), the Corderie, where the ropes were made, rebuilt in 1583 by Antonio da Ponte, and the Volti acquei alle canne, probably by Jacopo Sansovino.
In recent years, some of the Arsenale buildings have opened to the public during the Biennale and exhibitions. The Venice Biennale undertook extensive reconstruction work, so that a part of the building could already be used for the international exhibition in 1999.
Following the completion of the reconstruction, there now exists an exhibition space of 17.000 mē in the various buildings of the Arsenale.
Unfortunately, access to the Arsenale area is not allowed, as it is still occupied quarters for the Italian navy.