Not a dodgy Palace.

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by garymarsh6 on September 20, 2012

Palazzo Ducale Venice.

The once official residence of the Doge of Venice the Palazzo Ducale Venizia was the hub of the Republic of Venice. The original palace was actually around the area where the Rialto Bridge is situated but moved to its present site after many fires that occurred in and around the wooden buildings and palaces of Venice. That is not to say that the Palace has remained untouched by troubles. Built in the 15thCentury it too has had several very big fires causing much devastation but fortunately the building has been reconstructed several times. The original palace was more akin to a fort with four outlook towers that were on the waterfront so that ships approaching the Island would see the imposing structure across the lagoon. It was destroyed after a fire and the present palace was built.

The Role of the Doge of Venice.

Often wrongly referred to as the Duke of Venice the Doge was an elected position which the Doge held for life. He was usually an elder of the local aristocracy elected by 40 fellow members of the aristocracy to act as Chief Magistrate and leader of the Church and in particular the military. The post of doge had been around for over 1000 years since 697 AD to the 1700’s when Napoléon invaded and took control of Venice forcing the last Doge to abdicate his position. The position of Doge was mainly as a figure head and the running of the republic was conducted by administrators and other members of the ruling council in the chambers above the public rooms on the ground floor. It was a strictly run republic and the Doge was not even allowed to open letters himself a council had to be present.

The doge rarely left the palace except for official duties and was confined to the compound of the Palace and the Basilica San Marco next door. A special entrance leads from the palace into the Basilica. Several Doge’s are buried within the Basilica but most are interred in another grand church the Basilica Di San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. In total there were 120 Doges of Venice a couple of Doges were beheaded and their head displayed on poles in the local market. The majority of Doges held onto their heads and lives thankfully but that was probably due to the fact that they were closely monitored.

The main times that the Doge left the palace was on ceremonial duties including the grand procession where he would be surrounded by various administrators on a procession to the convent of San Zaccharia where the nuns would sew a special cap he wore under his official hat which depicted his status. This was usually jewel encrusted and of a particular shape conical at the back of the hat that showed his position as Doge. In the ground floor courtyard in one corner is a gondola which had an enclosed compartment for the doge to sit in so that he was not seen by the people of Venice. It is painted black.

Visiting the palace.

No visit to Venice is complete without taking a tour of the palace and if you wish to avoid the long queues it is better to pre-book your tickets on line. All you have to do then is turn up pick up your tickets and in you go avoiding all the queues that form outside the palace. I would strongly advise you to do this as it will save you at least an hour of queuing. The entrance to the Palace is through the main entrance along the waterfront via the ticket office. You are immediately brought into the massive courtyard with views of the Basilica San Marco.
The ground floor of the palace is surrounded by an arched corridor around the perimeter allowing you to be outside and under cover. The appearance of the palace is like a sugar icing structure that is quite beautiful on the eye. There is a mixture of stonework and marble then on the second floor there is a another corridor that runs around the perimeter of the building this would be where the members of the council could walk under cover but getting fresh air at the same time. It provided shade from the intense summer sun and also allowed breezes through to the grand rooms inside. This corridor is very ornately sculptured. The façade of the building above the two corridors appear to be pinkish marble which makes the palace seem unique and is of gothic architectural style.

The Doges apartment.

Mounting a very ornate stairway the ceiling is covered in gold leaf and ornate paintings. This takes you to the doge’s quarters which are along the waterfront view. A couple of the rooms were reception rooms where the doge would meet people and were ceremonial. They are ornately decorated with the Doges coat of arms and covered with paintings and large maps showing Venice’s importance throughout the maritime world. In the map room not only are there maps painted on the walls there are also two massive globes in the room. The rooms look beautiful but there is quite a lot to take in.

The hall of portraits.

Here you will find portraits of many of the Doges that were incumbent in the palace. There is one portrait that is missing and in its place just a piece of black cloth. This is supposed to represent Doge Marino Faliero who was convicted of treason and executed by being beheaded. The black cloth is supposed to represent Damnatio Memoriae or condemnation of memory so that no one remembers him. He was Doge for only one year from 1334 to 1335.

The equerries chambers.

There are equerries ante chambers leading into the Doges private apartment. In total eight equerries were appointed so that they were available to him at all times. The equerry would be appointed as a lifelong assistant but once the Doge died he would be removed from office. The Doge would have furnished his apartment with furniture from his own home but as soon as he died it would all be returned to his home so that the incoming doge could furnish the apartment with his own furniture. The coat of Arms on display are those of Ludovico Manin the last Doge of Venice.

The council Chambers.

After the doges private apartments you then continue to various ante chambers where dignitaries such as ambassadors would wait for an audience with the doge to present their credentials. The doge had his own secret staircase which would bring him down to the chambers of the council.

Prisoners would wait to have their cases heard by the magistrates in various ante chambers which lead you to the council chambers. The council chambers are very large indeed and criminal cases would be heard in these grand rooms. The chamber is very imposing and probably quite intimidating to those attending a court session it is over 50 meters long and 25 meters wide with very high ceilings. There is a dais where the Chief magistrate and other magistrates would sit in session. Those that were not fined but required imprisonment were taken immediately to the prison next door. The prison also contained torture chambers where prisoners were treated abominably. They would be led in handcuffs and chains along a double stone corridor across the bridge of sighs straight into the prison. The reason it is called the bridge of sighs is because along the windowed corridor across the bridge is where the prisoner would take a sigh as it would be the last time that he possibly saw Venice. The view from the bridge of sighs is of the Island of San Giorgio .The prison was quite an inhospitable place baking hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. The cells were quite small and there is a central courtyard where the prisoners were allowed out to exercise. There was virtually no escape from the prison.

The most famous prisoner of course being Casanova who escaped the prison and although the tale was that it was a grand escape the likely story is that he actually bribed a guard to help him escape.
Returning back to the Palace over the bridge of sighs takes you into the grand council chamber. This massive room is very ornately decorated all kinds of petitions would be heard here and visiting dignitaries would be given an audience here. It is an absolutely massive room with paintings on the walls and ceilings by famous artists such as Titian Bellini and Tintoretto.

After spending some time in the massive council chamber you walk along the corridor to the grand ceremonial staircase which takes you back down to the courtyard that leads to the original main entrance called the Porta della Carta where people would have had to present their papers before being let into or out of the Palace.
Doge's Palace/Palazzo Ducale
Piazza San Marco
Venice, Italy, 30124
+39 0415224951

© LP 2000-2009