In the summer of 2002, archaeological divers discovered a rare find in the lagoon surrounding Venice: a 38-meter long galley - the first in the world to be found intact.
This discovery astounded historians and archaeologists around the world. At long last they might have the key to understanding how the Serenissima, as the Venetian was then called, gained undisputed supremacy over the entire Mediterranean for hundreds of years.
The incredible wealth and might of this group of small islands with no natural resources and no army can only be put down to its fleet of galleys. It’s no wonder that the government-run arsenale where the galleys were designed and built was called the 'heart of the Republic'.
While much has been written about Venice’s history, relatively little is known about its naval building projects. The government kept highly secret all activities of the arsenale because the Republic's very survival depended on it. But we known that thousands of galleys were made here, often very quickly; in 1570, for example, 100 galleys were built in less than 50 days. And we know that they transported countless tons of precious cargo - gold, diamonds, silk and spices – over journeys of thousands of miles from East to West, from Constantinople and Alexandria to Flanders and the British Isles.
How could a vessel with such a shallow draught (just over one meter) take on such enormous distances and dangerous waters? How could 200 men power the galley faster than any other ship of the time? How did the arsenal manage to produce the galleys so quickly?
This film brings the galley to life at pivotal moment in its history and reveals for the first time how and why it became Venice’s secret weapon in the battle for control over the known world.