The Arsenal is the symbol of Venice’s might. It was named the ‘heart of Venice’ in 1509. Its origins began in 1104 under a stata dictate. Until then carpenters worked singly in small boat building workshops throughout the city called ‘squeri’.
The word ‘squero’ comes from the word ‘squadro’ which means ‘square’ as in the builder’s square and that used in mathematics and geometry. Either that or it could come from the word ‘sorgier’ which are the steps leading down to the water.
In the beginning it was more lucrative for a carpenter to work privately in a squero. That changed when it became an honour to work for the state. The state offered priveleges such as protection from hunger and the plague. The state considered its workers a font of wealth and military defence.
In 1374, the Arsenal was given the monopoly in shipbuilding. It was even forbidded to buy wood or construct boats outside the city. The most important work went to the ‘marangoni’ who built the hulls and the interior of the ships. They made up 80 percent of the work total. The ‘arsenalotti’, those who worked at the arsenal, worked from sunrise to sunset and even though the pay was not high, the workers received free accommodation, wine, a sort of welfare for health assistance and against injury.
The Arsenal director or boss had to answer to three patrons that were also called Lords. These lived in the three pavillions called Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. From 1442 these Lords had to report back to three senators.