The powerhouse of the Republic. The walls surrounding the complex possess an air comparable to that of the perimeter of The Forbidden City, or the outer columns of Karnak. A brutal, majestic testament to raw power and pre-industrial organisation and investment.
It's hard to gain access to the inner docks and wharves of the complex, as the site has been taken over by Biennale museum exhibits, and the unapologetic cordoning off of acres of real estate by the Italian military. But it's still possible, walking around the southern and western flanks of these huge walls, to imagine the place energised by thousands of workers drawn from the city, and the nearby houses surrounding the complex.
By the end of the 14th Century, there were an estimated 16,000 Arsenalotti (compare this with the 3,000 workers at Portsmouth some 400 years later). Summoned to work by the ringing of an alarm bell situated in one of the two towers flanking the water entrance (seen on the right), a shift lasted from dawn to dusk, with a break for lunch. Pay was pretty low, but there were a number of fringe benefits - free housing, donations of wine, and the opportunity to take surplus materials from ships for their own use. If workload was low (for example, when the fleets were at sea each summer), they would double up as firefighters, or appointed as a kind of trusted civil militia, guarding key public buildings such as the Mint and the Treasury in the centre of the city, gaining them an additional 40 ducats income each year.
Some ended up as non-commissioned officers on the very ships they helped build.
A couple of days later, on our way back from a blisteringly hot day in Murano, we were able to view the North Gate of the Arsenale, through which each new vessel would pass for sea trials.
Sclavo, as Head of Supply, would have earned huge respect for his role in keeping this place going. Donata was rightly proud of his achievement.His position also meant that he was fully embedded in the community of merchants and businessmen in the city.
A truly impressive structure, it's tower and high walls dominating the easternmost tip of the Venetian mainland. In THE QUARANT, both Malin and Bourchier find it easy to access the grounds between the church and the Lagoon, but today, it's a real conundrum.We wandered back and forth for almost an hour trying to find a way to access the waterfront, but finally gave up - the site is now bounded by a restricted military zone, the Stadium Pier Luigi Penzo (the home of Venice FC, but to my deteriorating mood that day, walking repeatedly around the stadium perimeter in the increasing heat and humidity of the day, it felt more reminiscent of those South American arenas where dictators pursue mass slaughter and the Disappearance of their opponents).
The closest we got to the grounds at the back of the church was to wander, with an air of honest entitlement, to the far end of the marina walkway to the north of the building. A Saturday morning, the place was pretty peaceful, with a nice view across to Isola Le Certosa, and the occasional breeze suggesting I should raise a hand to secure my hat. The marina clubhouse, occupied by a man filling a bucket and a woman with a yappy, restless 'pocket-dog', was less Monaco Yacht Club, more backstreet taxi control office.