The Arsenale of Venice isn't just an ordinary "arsenal," it was the heart of the maritime republic's shipping industry starting in the 12th century. The Venice Arsenal stretched over 46 hectares. It was founded by Doge Ordelafo Faliero in 1104 and was considered the first factory in the world, representing a centralized model of pre-industrial age economy. It also represents the most flourishing period of the Serenissima, that constructed the arsenal of merchant vessels and military ships that were used to fight the Turks in the Aegean Sea and to conquer Europe, giving Venice its highest status.

The shipyards and workshops were a sign of Venice's dominating naval might, able to build both the components and the ships themselves in a single facility. The huge complex was surrounded by high walls and guarded by two crenellated bell towers, a bevy of stone lions, and imposing carved statues of Neptune and a Warrior. Inside, there were areas for the orderly fabrication of each necessary component, including rope and artillery, which became themselves two important commodities that were also traded on the open market. The entire fleet was then constructed, with an assembly-line type of system that was so advanced they could construct an entire ship in one day. The Republic owned mountain forests to ensure a supply of wood for the industry.

Outside, the Porta Magna gate was built in 1460 according to a desing by Bellini. It is said that Galileo consulted to military engineers and instrument makers here, and the Arsenale's mass production techniques were so talked of that they were mentioned by Dante in the Inferno. The Arsenale complex still operates in a much-reduced fashion for boat supplies, but part of the complex has been renovated to be used for Venice's elite Biennale art exhibitions. Wander over to take a look, as there are plenty of photo ops and neighborhood bars along the way in this off-the-beaten path location. Around the corner is the interesting Museo Storico Navale, with displays of Venice's maritime might, including a replica of the Bucintoro, the Doge's ceremonial barge.

The Arsenale is open Monday through Saturday from 8:45 AM til 1:00 PM.

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Address in Venice:

Ponte de l'Arsenal.

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