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ARSENAL OF VENICE, ITALY: Plan général de l’Arsenal de Venise.



A unique manuscript map by one of the most important Venetian map-makers of the early 19th century Bernardo Combatti, shows the Arsenal, as rebuilt by Napoleon around 1810, to the form known today.

The Arsenal today hosts the Venetian Biennale. 

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This highly decorative manuscript map with vivid colours shows the Arsenale of Venice in the early 1810s, when it was completely reconstructed by Napoleon Bonaparte. The key on the left-hand side names 25 buildings and canals, most of which got new functions at that time.

When Napoleon got Venice in 1805, he started rebuilding the city into more functional military base, with the Arsenal being one of the main military navy bases, as well as places for storing material and building ships.

Napoleon started rebuilding the Arsenal to produce enormous military ships, with three bridges and 80 cannons, nothing like the navy has seen before. The ships were supposed to be built on the open air by the basins (here marked with nr. 15) and launched into the sea through the newly built gate.  

Napoleon had to build many warehouses along the docks, redesign the canals and ports, and close the monasteries around the docks. They were either torn down, either used for military purposes.

The church Santa Maria della Celestia was torn down in 1810 and replaced with warehouses for storing wood – here marked with number 5 in the upper left corner. The canal in front of it was using for deposing oak wood. The churches of Virgin Mary and St. Daniel on the right-hand side, marked with A and B, were used for military purposes.

Between 1809 and 1811 Napoleon had constructed a new exit from the Arsenal, the Porta Nuova, here marked with the number 13 above right. It was supposed to be used to launch the newly built gigantic military ships. The north part of the exit was ornated with a large tower, built between 1809-1811, marked here with number 12 and as “a new tower”. The tower was mainly used for placing the masts on the new ships.

The marked Porta Nuova and the tower on the map help us date the map between 1811 and Napoleon’s defeat in 1814.

Today the Arsenal preserves many of the Napoleonic features, which broke the Venetian tradition of merchants of many centuries. The buildings today host the Venetian Biennale, Studi Militari Marittimi, Museo storico navale etc.



Bernardo Combatti

Not much is known about the life of the map-maker and urbanist Bernardo Combatti, although his work could be traced over 35 years and was perhaps the most important map-maker of Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic Venice.

In 1815 Dionisio Moretti made a map with a title Mappa generale delle lagune di Venezia dalla foce dell’Adige a quella della Piave e paesi limitrofi, based on Combatti’s draft. In 1829 same author published a wall map Mappa generale delle lagune di Venezia, again based on Combatti’s drawing.

In 1847 brothers Bernardo and Gaetano Combatti published a book and a large wall map Nuova planimetria della R.Citta di Venezia… Rilenata sul Imago e designata nel 1846 da Bernardo e Gaetano Combatti… , printed from 20 plates, which is the most important map of post-Napoleonic Venice, showing the new urbanistic development of the city.

The 1847 map shows the Arsenal already partly reconstructed after the time of the Napoleon. Among others the wood warehouse has been torn down and replaced by Piazzale la Celestia in the memory of the demolished church.

This is Combatti’s earliest recorded map and the only manuscript map, we could trace.


The map is a very significant historical document of the development of Venice, since not many manuscript maps of the Napoleon’s important reconstruction of the Arsenal survive (see: http://arsenale.comune.venezia.it/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/relazione-finale-arsenale_ENG_2.pdf).


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