Established by the Italian Royal Navy in 1919 (just after World War I), the Museo Storico Navale (Museum of Naval History) is located in Venice's Castello district. It highlights the city's naval and maritime history and its famous Arsenale (Arsenal), with a fascinating collection of ship models and old weapons.

Venice was once the most feared maritime power in the Mediterranean, with the Arsenale the largest shipbuilding complex on the continent until the end of the 17th century. It was originally founded in 1104 and expanded over time, employing as many as 16,000 workers at its peak of production.

The bow of a trireme-adapted ship.
The bow of a trireme-adapted ship. [CC] credit.

The Arsenale was closely guarded to retain Venetian shipbuilding secrets, with a grand Renaissance-style arch at its land entrance. The arch is guarded by lions brought from Greece following the Peloponnese's conquest in the 17th century. The Arsenale is now used for military purposes, but it’s here that the first shipbuilding models were once displayed, and the Museum of Naval History’s collection was born.

Today, the museum lies adjacent to the shipyard and exhibits vessels built by the Venetians at the height of their power. Don’t miss the large model of the legendary Bucintoro, which was the Doge’s opulent official barge. There are also paintings depicting life at sea and booty collected during various maritime wars. Be sure to spend some time admiring the collection of real-size historic vessels in the Ships Pavilion and the artifacts documenting the rise and fall of shipbuilding in Venice.