Hidden away at the end of Calle delle Pignatte in Cannaregio is one of Venice’s most unusual, eclectic, and largely unknown museums in Venice. Open only by appointment, the Arzanà museum is housed in an ancient squero (boat-building yard), which was first documented in the 15th century and remained active until 1920. Originally owned by the Casal dei Servi family (one of Venice’s most important gondola-making dynasties), today the building contains a private collection of historic Venetian boats and maritime treasures that offer an intriguing insight into Venice’s nautical history.
The museum is owned by the Arzanà Association, a non-profit organisation founded in 1992 that aims to promote the study and preservation of Venice’s traditional naval heritage – which today is at risk of falling into oblivion. Over the years, the association has built up a vast array of maritime equipment and ephemera, most of which was recovered from abandoned boat workshops or donated by private individuals.
Inside the museum it’s quite an Aladdin’s Cave full of artefacts ranging from vintage sails to old fishing equipment, an original felze (the structure that used to cover passengers on a gondola), forcole (carved gondola oar-rests) and 19th century boat lamps, as well as historic boats including the only surviving example of an authentic ‘gondolin da fresco’ – a narrow, light-weight gondola that was built in this very squero between 1870-80. Other boats in the Arzanà collection are kept in water for use in Venice’s many historic regattas; some have even been featured in films including recent productions of Casanova and The Merchant of Venice.
For anyone interested in discovering more about this important aspect of Venetian life and history, a visit to the museum is highly recommended; private guided tours can be arranged in return for a donation that supports the maintenance of the collection. While you’re at it, why not also consider trying your hand at Venetian rowing, by booking a lesson with the excellent organisation ‘Row Venice’, which offers private lessons for up to four people in traditional hand-crafted wooden boats.
DON’T MISS: ‘JHeronimus Bosch and Venice’ at the Palazzo Ducale until 4th June 2017
Set within the Grand Ducal Apartments of the Palazzo Ducale, this superb exhibition explores the links between Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516) and Venice – the only city in Italy that holds any works by the enigmatic Flemish artist. Revolving around three masterpieces that were restored last year on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his death, the exhibition also includes around 50 other contextual works from significant collections, including rare manuscripts, bronzes and antique marbles, as well as artworks by Dürer, Bruegel and Cranach. In the final room of the exhibition, visitors are even able to immerse themselves in Bosch’s paintings and take a 3D journey through his fantastical visions of the afterlife, via a multi-media installation titled ‘Four Visions of the Hereafter: A virtual reality experience from Hell to Heaven’. If you’re coming to Venice over the next few months, this fascinating show is well worth a visit.