The Doge's Palace was the seat of the government of Venice for centuries. In addition to being the Doge’s home, it housed the law courts, civil administration and bureaucracy and the jail. It is a repository of the history of Venice, architecturally, artistically and historically.
We basically wander around trying to see everything. I am particularly fascinated by what I learn about the governing system of Venice. It was a republic that operated as an oligarchy. A vast bureaucracy of elected civil servants, committees and councils was presided over by the only figure elected for life, the doge. The system of elected doges lasted for over 1000 years, from 697 to 1789. Interestingly, a really incompetent or evil duke would not last very long. He would just happen to die sooner than he would have from natural causes so the leaders could choose a more suitable candidate. The most famous example is Marino Faliero, the 55th doge. He was appointed in 1354 and by 1355 was plotting a coup to declare himself prince. When he was caught he pleaded guilty, was beheaded, mutilated and all traces of him were expunged from history and memory. His place among the paintings of the 76 doges in the Hall of the Great Council is empty, covered by a black veil.
The first version of the palace was raised in the ninth century but it wasn’t until 1340 that the present building really took shape. Work continued until 1438 when the last piece, the grand entrance was finished. Work on the palace has never really stopped and even today there is a constant effort to maintain, refurbish and restore the building and its contents.
We enter through a side door, into a large courtyard. We can see there is a mix of styles, as successive doges tried to make the palace ever more magnificent. The columns surrounding the courtyard are elaborately carved. Sculptures are scattered about representing scenes from the bible. In the southwest corner there is an enormous staircase, the Scala dei Giganti, overlooked by huge statues of Neptune and Mars. This is where the Doge and his officials received visiting dignitaries.
We ascend the highly gilded "Golden Staircase" and stroll through the doge’s private and public rooms, filled with frescos by Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese and other lesser known artists. We finally reach the aforementioned Hall of the Great Council, perhaps the most magnificent room in the palace. We also visit the armory which has fascinating weapon exhibits. Descending into the building’s bowels, we cross the Bridge of Sighs, so named because it provided prisoners a last look at Venice. We explore the ‘new’ prison, built in the 17th century. Casanova is the only person known to have escaped this horrible place.
We wanted to spend more time here but we become thirsty, hungry and weary and decide to leave.
Open daily. Entry in combination with the Correr Museum: €16. Photo shooting in courtyard only.