"As in the Arsenal of the Venetians
Boils in the winter the tenacious pitch
To smear their unsound vessels o’er again,
For sail they cannot; and instead thereof
One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks
The ribs of that which many a voyage has made;
One hammers at the prow, one at the stern,
This one makes oars, and that one cordage twists,
Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen;
Thus, not by fire, but by the art divine,
Was boiling down below there a dense pitch
Which upon every side the bank belimed."
Dante Inferno Canto XXI, Longfellow trans.
Our trip to Venice offered the opportunity to experience a number of things. Great art, wonderful food, spectacular buildings and a palpable sense of history.
I have two individuals whose work and life I have been keenly interested in Charles Darwin and Dante, okay a bit of a contrast but whatever. So I was really ecstatic one foggy morning to see the Venetian Arsenal the site of so much of the naval power of the Venetian Republic at the height of it's power. It was also the subject of a metaphor in Dante's Inferno, so for me to see it was to experience both history and literature.
"The image of the busy shipyard with its activity revolving around a vat of viscous pitch establishes the tone for this canto (and the next) as one of tense and excited movement. Also we once again see Dante imitating the action with his language: the busy syntax reflects the activity of the shipyard"
from the notes to Mark Musa's translation of the Inferno (probably my favourite)
"The Arsenal at Venice ( built in 1104 and greatly enlarged in 1303-4 and 1325 ) was one of the most important shipyards in Europe in Dante's time. About two miles in perimeter, it was enclosed within high walls surmounted by battlements and flanked by towers. See F.C. Lane (1934) ,pp. 129-31"
from the Charles S. Singleton's Commentary to the Inferno. p. 365