The term arsenal derives from the Arabic expression "darsina'a" (which mixes the words dock and shipyard), subsequently modified into the Venetian form "darzanà" (from which the Dante coining "arzanà" derives), "arzanàl" (or " arsenàl ") and finally the arsenal.
The foundation of this large shipyard dates back to 1104 under the Doge of Ordelafo Falier and started from two islands called "Twins". From the fourteenth century it gradually began to expand by increasing the number of construction sites and buildings such as the "Casa del Canevo" (building used for the manufacture of hawsers, redesigned in 1579 by Andrea da Ponte) and the New Arsenal (built in 1325 which followed in 1473 the very new); the area was further enriched later by the canal and the shelter of the Galeazze, the Darsena Nuovissima and the Squero delle Gagiandre, the latter attributed to a project by Sansovino.
A curiosity: the gagiandra (stationed float or armed raft), is given by the Boerio as galàna or turtle, the armored animal that we all know.
The accesses to the Arsenale consisted of the Porta di terra placed in the field of the Arsenal, built in 1460 on a project by Gambello, and the Porta d'Acqua on the Rio Arsenale, dating back to the sixteenth century and overlooking the oldest part of the construction site. that is the Old Dock. On the sides of the Porta di Terra there are two marble lions: these are two war spoils of Greek origin, one of which comes from Piraeus in Athens (the one on the left), while the other was located along the Lepsina road that connected Athens to Eleuni. The other two smaller lions on the right come from the island of Delos and date back to around the 6th century BC.
Within the walls that encircled the area, real neighborhoods had developed, populated by workers and dockers who were nicknamed arsenalotti, in addition, various manufacturing and craft activities had developed to support the activities inside the yard.
It is worth remembering that here the concept of factory was anticipated by many centuries, based on an assembly line through the use of standard components. In doing so, the Serenissima was able to produce large numbers of boats and what was necessary for its fleet, which allowed it to have a considerable advantage over other "competitors" and to be the largest shipbuilding factory in the world for many centuries.
Under French rule, in addition to a reorganization of the organization, the Porta Nuova canal was opened together with which the tower of the same name was erected along the wall, all in order to facilitate the access of the ships that were previously forced to pass through the basin of San Marco.
A few decades ago a bronze bust depicting the poet Dante Alighieri was placed along the walls, who wrote a passage dedicated to the Arsenale:
«Quale ne l'arzanà de' Viniziani
bolle l'inverno la tenace pece
a rimpalmare i legni lor non sani,
ché navicar non ponno – in quella vece
chi fa suo legno nuovo e chi ristoppa
le coste a quel che più vïaggi fece;
chi ribatte da proda e chi da poppa;
altri fa remi e altri volge sarte;
chi terzeruolo e artimon rintoppa –;
tal, non per foco ma per divin' arte,
bollia là giuso una pegola spessa,
che 'nviscava la ripa d'ogne parte.
I' vedea lei, ma non vedëa in essa
mai che bolle che 'l bollor levava,
e gonfiar tutta, e riseder compressa.»
(Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, Inferno, XXI, vv. 7-21)
Recently the area has been the focus of a redevelopment program for cultural purposes. The old rowing workshop now houses the Ships Pavilion of the Naval History Museum of the Navy, while the monumental area and in particular the Tese (the sheds used for the construction of sails) have been granted to the Biennale and house the Piccolo Arsenale Theater (former Arsenale cinema) and the Teatro alle Tese.