A while ago on Silver Travel I reviewed Eastern Castello in Venice, commenting that I really wanted to see inside Arsenale but as it’s only open to the public during the Art Biennale I was unlikely to get to see it this year as we went to Venice last October. But we did – and I have! I achieved my dream and it was even better than I expected.
Our tickets cost 25.50 euros each and for that price we were able to visit both sites on two separate days; once a ticket has been used on one site you can’t return to it on another day. For those who don’t want to pay to visit either of these exhibition sites there are national exhibitions held in various locations around Venice.
Our first visit was to Arsenale, which I’ve written about before in my Silver Travel review `Eastern Castello, Venice – The Arsenale and how to get a peep inside` which goes into more detail about the historic dockyard. The first part of the exhibition was arranged along the length of the Corderie (ropery or rope-walk); at 317 metres long, 21 metres wide and 12.10 metres high it’s an impressive building. It was first built in 1303 but rebuilt between 1579 and 1585. Two rows of huge columns run the length of the building and support two lofts that were rebuilt in 1916 using reinforced concrete to replace the original wood.
I enjoyed some of the art but it was the buildings I was there to see and so didn’t get the full effect of the sheer size and length of the building due to the many temporary structures that had been built to display the art works. But I still enjoyed what I saw – crumbling, only partially restored, old columns, ceilings and walls, Victorian and newer doorways, iron railings etc. After the displays in the Corderie we went into former dockyard warehouses and workshops to see more installations and then outside to see as much of the site as possible. Much of the original shipyard is still there but obviously there have been rebuilds and renovations over the centuries, with much Victorian and later work in evidence. The sky was blue and there were two small cafes outside, as well as the restaurant inside, so it was a pleasant place to spend several hours. We ventured inside the two storey Sale d’Armi (armaments complex) originally built in 1460 where there were more installations.
There were also several national pavilions on this site and the Italian one had huge queues of people waiting to go in: the queues for the toilets were nearly as bad and this is where the Biennale experience could be better organised given the number of visitors to both sites. The Gaggiandre – two docks – provided a perfect backdrop for photographs, as well as being the location of another art work. The Italian navy still uses the dockyard and we did see one of its ships there but the modern ships tend to be too large to make much use of it.
Venice was really busy this year, much busier than we usually find it in October, with large numbers of student groups. Some of this is due to the re-opening of tourism following the pandemic and some, I suspect, to it being an Art Biennale year.
We spent just over 4 hours in the arsenal; it would be possible to spend much longer there as there is so much to see. I am satisfied that I finally got to see inside the arsenal so I doubt if I will ever go back but I can thoroughly recommend this magnificent historic site to anyone interested in industrial archaeology and photography.