Pisa’s derelict Republican Arsenal becomes modern events space

Situated on a 4-hectare site bought by the municipality of Pisa from the Italian state in 2010, the 14th-century Republican Arsenal was a ruin at the time of the purchase. It was covered by vegetation and around 2 m of debris, had no roof and its archways had collapsed. Under the EU-funded Pisa2 project, it has been turned into a modern events space able to host cultural activities, public performances and exhibitions from Pisa’s museum of ancient ships.

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The 14th-century Republican Arsenal in Pisa has been turned into a modern events space able to host cultural activities © Pisa2 The 14th-century Republican Arsenal in Pisa has been turned into a modern events space able to host cultural activities © Pisa2

" The reconstruction and conversion of the Republican Arsenal contributes to the conservation of cultural heritage and smart and sustainable development. It provides cultural infrastructure and services, promotes the creative and cultural industries, and makes culture an attractive means of bringing communities together. "

Fabio Daole, Municipality of Pisa

The restored Republican Arsenal consists of an 8.5 m-high open-plan indoor area of around 1 000 m² interspersed with pillars and arches and able to accommodate 600 people. There are openings onto a 350 m² external section, while views in and around the building are unobstructed either by the structural supports installed under the project or the technological systems needed for public events.

Technical installations and visitor facilities are in a separate 200 m² building connected to the Arsenal by a walkway beneath a glass and metal structure.

Excavation and rebuilding

Archaeological excavations prior to the launch of the project covered an area of 2 794 m² and shifted 4 211 m³ of earth. Studies performed using the latest technology gave a clear idea of the floor plan and the arrangement of elements such as pillars and overhead supports in the original building. Further analysis showed that it had been built between 1329 and 1338 and consisted of six sections. Two of these – one to the south and another to the north of the present structure – were demolished between 1826 and 1833.

Rebuilding work entailed placing new masonry on top of the ruins. In order to respect the original layout, eight pillars, round and segmental arches, large pointed arches at the east and west ends and a pitched roof in four sections were constructed. Masonry from the demolished sections on the north and south sides was used for the pillars, the pointed arches and the northern and southern walls.

Tests on the ruins highlighted a need to strengthen the walls by reinforcing the vertical supporting pillars. This was done by making perforations from top to bottom and inserting steel rods. An automated underfloor building management system provides energy-efficient heating and ventilation, while ordinary, safety and emergency lighting is based on a LED system which can be programmed remotely.

Between its opening in October 2015 and early 2018, the Republican Arsenal hosted 85 events attended by an estimated 50 000 people, including two editions of Pisa’s biennial architecture exhibition and three international conferences on green infrastructure.

Restoration of the citadel

The land adjacent to the old citadel of Pisa houses the Medici Arsenal – home of the museum of ancient ships. Since it was opened at the end of 2016, the museum has restored about 30 ships of different sizes, some of which date back to the Roman Empire.

Located within the city walls, the citadel was originally known as the Tersana, or shipyard. The first vessels are thought to have been built there in the early 13th century. It was turned into a fortress from the beginning of the 15th century and much of the complex was destroyed in the Second World War.

Partial regeneration of the Tersana took place in the 1950s. Under Pisa2, there are plans to turn it into a public park and international tourist hub with a view to attracting private investment and generating economic and social benefits.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Pisa2: culture, innovation, knowledge and hospitality” is EUR 5 177 998, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 3 106 798 through the “Tuscany” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Making full use of local resources, sustainable development of the territory”.

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