Since 1999, the Biennale has been particuarly attentive to all the restoration works designed for the Arsenale, a complex urban estate of high historical importance, in order to plan a new functional exhibition arrangement in the areas conceded by the Demanio Militare.
50.000 square metres (25.000 of which of indoor space) of the South-East area of the Arsenale have become the stable site of the Biennale activities, with exhibition spaces such as: Corderie, Artiglierie, Gaggiandre, Tese Cinquecentesche, Tese delle Vergini.
Live performances have taken place at the Teatro alle Tese and at the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale.
These buildings were properly renewed, restoring shingles, plants and floorings, providing up-to-date and equipped services for visitors: ticket-offices, bookshops, catering services, control rooms.
The new Padiglione Italia, destined to the exhibitions promoted by The Ministry for Cultural Affairs, overlooks the Gaggiandre and the 16th century Tese on one side, and the Giardino delle Vergini on the other. It hosts Italian artists in a significantly enlarged and requalified structure (in 2009 the exhibition space was extended from 800 to 1800 square metres).
At the same time a new reorganisation plan to access this area has been defined, specifically by realising a new entrance from the Ponte dei Pensieri, which links the Giardino delle Vergini to the Castello neighbourhood. This bridge is in fact a completely new access to the Arsenale, making the Giardini-Arsenale being perceived as a new unity.
Its entire surface (6000 square metres) having been used for the first time in 2008, on the occasion of the 11th International Architecture Exhibition, nowadays the Giardino delle Vergini also hosts a landscape installation by Gustafson Porter - Gustafson Guthrie Nichol firms.
The Arsenale is the largest pre-industrial production centre of the world. Its surface occupied forty-six hectars, and it would host up to 2000 workers a day in full swing. It is an important place for Venice, not only because the Serenissima fleet was built there, but also because these shipyards, depots and workshops were the symbol of the military, economical and political power Venice had back in time. Its first unit dates back to the beginning of the 13th century, and was developed on the Darsena Vecchia sides. At the beginning of the 14th century the first extension was realised, by buiding the Darsena Nuova and, in the following century, the Arsenale underwent other transfromations due to the impelling naval and military needs of the Serenissima. As time went by, the Arsenale kept losing its military importance, becoming a more commerce-related site. Between 1876 and 1909, the last significant extension intervention was made, that is the realisation of the new structures between of the Darsena Nuova and Nuovissima.
Corderie. Extending on the southern side of the Arsenale, built in 1303 and then rebuilt between 1576 and 1585 after the designs of Antonio da Ponte, they were originally destined to the production of hawsers and naval ropes. The building, fully covered by wooden trusses, measures 316 metres in length, 21 in width and 9,70 in heigth. It presents a three-aisle structure, each one propping up wooden trusses, approximately at a seven metre heighth. The exhibition spaces cover a 6400 square metres surface.
Artiglierie and Isolotto. Made up of a one floor building dating back to 1560, the Artiglierie occupy a 3.300 square metres area. They originally hosted the Arsenale workshops. Next to this site, there is a former warehouse (the Isolotto) that covers 900 square metres.
Gaggiandre, Tese, Giardino delle Vergini. The Gaggiandre, two magnificent shipyards built between 1568 and 1573 after some designs attributed to Jacopo Sansovino, overlook a large internal dock. Beyond the Tese, partly realised in the 16th century, is the Giardino delle Vergini, a fascinating green area.
The Biennale di Venezia first employed the Arsenale, specifically the Corderie area, in 1980, in occasion of the 1st International Architecture Exhibition curated by Paolo Portoghesi, who set up the Strada Novissima at the Corderie of the Arsenale. In the following years, the same spaces were used in other Art Exhibition for the Aperto section, devoted to the promotion of young artists.