Venice was once the greatest sea-power in the Mediterranean and she owed that position to the Arsenale (Arsenal), the most efficient and productive shipyard in the medieval world. The Arsenale (from the Arabic word darsina'a, which means workshop) once had thousands of workers (Arsenalotti) on its payroll.
The Arsenale was founded at the beginning of the 12th century and enlarged a century later. A further addition (Arsenale Nuovo) was made in 1325 and a third in 1473 (Arsenale Nuovissimo).
Enclosed within two miles of walls and occupying an area of 80 acres, the Arsenale adopted highly advanced techniques of manufacture (assembly lines, standardised parts, the division of labour), which were far ahead of its time.
Its land entrance, the beautiful Porta di Terra (c. 1460, possibly the work of Antonio Gambello), is one of the earliest Renaissance monuments in Venice.
In 1578, in memory of the famous battle of Lepanto (1571), a statue of Santa Giustina (the battle had taken place on October 7th, which is the saint's feast day) was added to the apex of the pediment. The statue is the work of Girolamo Campagna (1549-1625), a sculptor from Verona.
Over a century later, in 1682, the terrace was added. The eight allegorical statues hail the maritime strength and wisdom of the Most Serene Republic of Venice.
The gateway is flanked by two ancient Greek lions, which were plundered from Athens and Piraeus in 1687, war booty sent back to Venice by Francesco Morosini, following his reconquest of the Morea (the Peloponnese). Morosini was subsequently known as il Peloponnesiaco and in 1688 he was elected doge.
The other two lions were added in 1716 to mark the reconquest of Corfu.