Doge’s Palace – the residence of the rulers of Venice for 1000 years. Italy

Doge’s Palace

The Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale is located in mainland Italy, in the city of Venice, in St. Mark’s Square. Its rich interior and exterior, extensive collection of antiquities, and centuries of history have made this amazing structure one of the most popular and visited museums in the city on the water. Recognizable Gothic arches, exquisite crenellated walls, and sculpted colonnades, the Doge’s Palace seems to float above the sidewalk. Its history does not leave anyone indifferent – Palazzo Ducale was used as the residence of rulers, Parliament building, while criminals served prison sentences and conducted their secret affairs of the Inquisition.

Today, tourists are offered many fascinating excursions to see the building in its entirety, from the rich halls to the deep prison casemates.

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Historical Background

The history of the Doge’s Palace in Venice dates back to the beginning of the ninth century. Over the years, the building has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, it has survived several fires, been rebuilt and expanded with new elements.

Diagram of the Doge’s Palace

The first buildings in Piazza San Marco date back to 810. Originally, the building was conceived and built as a residence for the head of the Venetian Republic, the Doge. This position was elective, it was usually held by rich and noble citizens, who had power, money and influence. In most cases the title was granted for life.

In the Middle Ages the Venetian Republic was subordinated to Byzantium, so the Doges were, in fact, representatives of the emperor. The man who received the title of the head of the city had a solid power, participated in the government of the state, made military, political and ecclesiastical decisions. Over time, the Doge’s influence diminished and his role was reduced to representative tasks and participation in ceremonies. This luxurious residence had different functions at different times, but it never lost its importance in the life of the city.

The first building of the Doge’s Palace was a fortress with observation towers and water surrounding it on all sides. The building lasted more than a century and a half and was burned in 976 during a rebellion against the Doge P. Candiani IV, which was raised by the nobility. In the following centuries the residence was rebuilt, but the new building perished in a fire in 1106.

Doge’s Palace in a mid-18th century drawing by Canaletto

From the beginning of XII century begins a new page of history of Palazzo Ducale. The Republic of Venice significantly expanded its zones of influence, its possessions included the Ionian Islands, Crete, Cyprus, and other lands. Having a powerful navy, she could reliably protect the main residence of the state, so the Doge’s Palace was no longer built as a fortress with protective moats, but as a majestic fine building, filled with luxury and wealth.

That structure, which thousands of tourists come to admire every year, was erected between 1309 and 1424. The Palazzo Ducale was built in the Gothic style; historians suggest that the masters who had a hand in creating the architectural masterpiece were Pietro Bazeio, Filippo Calendario and Enrico.

In addition to the ruler, the building housed various state structures. The legislative body was represented by the Great Council, the executive and judicial services of medieval Venice were called the Council of Forty. The walls of the Doge’s Palace also housed the city’s secret police, the so-called Council of Ten.

Fire in 1577 caused irreparable damage to this architectural masterpiece: the southern wing was badly damaged, Giorgione’s works were irrevocably lost. Subsequent reconstruction almost completely restored the first architectural project, and such masters as Tintoretto and Veronese were involved in painting the interior rooms.

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The center of political life of the Palazzo Ducale remained until the end of the 18th century. Today the Doge’s Palace in Venice is a famous monument of Venetian architecture, inside there is a museum.

Doge’s Palace against the backdrop of Venice

Architecture and style

The lengthy construction and subsequent numerous reconstructions have enriched the building with different stylistic solutions. The recognizable façade of the Doge’s Palace – the silhouette of a ship turned upside down and looking out over the lagoon – made the building one of the symbols of Venice.

The first floor of Palazzo Ducale is represented by a luxurious arched gallery, where even in the merciless heat of the afternoon guests can enjoy the cool shade. On the second floor there are openwork balconies. This part of the building has a fresh Renaissance breath, and so here predominate soft rounded forms, displacing and replacing the austere asceticism of the Gothic. The solemnity and smartness of the monumental building is given by the white marble, which lined the facade – the huge Doge’s Palace does not look like a massive block, it looks more like a fine lace shawl, dropped on the ancient sidewalk.

Statues over the Porta della Carta, the front gate of the Doge’s Palace

Several portals lead into the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale. Once inside, one can admire the elaborate arched galleries that make up several floors of the palace. You can get here through one of the museum’s landmarks, the “Paper Door” or “Porta dela Carta”, a tall lancet arch decorated with bas-reliefs and sculptures. There are various versions of the origin of the name of the gate, for example, it is said that it was called Paper Door because of its proximity to the archives and workrooms of the scribes. Another version claims that they were used to display the texts of decrees and ordinances.

In the center of the courtyard there are two old bronze wells that were a source of water for the city in the past centuries. The water in them was so delicious, that every day traders from all over the city used to come here and wheel around with full barrels through the Venetian streets until the evening.

Doge’s Palace View of Piazza San Marco

In the exterior decoration of the Doge’s Palace, the attentive tourist will see many bas-reliefs and sculptures depicting lions and books – these are the main symbols of the city on the water, the attributes of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. Along the wall along the gallery, the predators are sculpted with their mouths open in a grin, and this is not just an artistic decision. The open lion’s mouths served as a kind of mailbox: here one could drop a denunciation, which then went to the secret office.

The north wing of the Venetian Doge’s Palace, which housed the apartments of the Venetian rulers, is decorated with sculpted images of eminent philosophers and statues of archangels. The majestic Gothic figures symbolize commerce, war and peace.

The staircase of the Giants, a massive structure carved out of Carrara marble, leads to the second floor. At the top of it are huge statues of the patrons of war and sea: the Roman gods Mars and Neptune. On the grand stone steps the most solemn and important events for the city took place: the coronation of the Doge, the reception of important guests.

Only members of the council could enter the inner rooms of the palace by climbing the Golden Staircase. Permission to enter was written in a book that was kept nearby in a room under the steps.

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Halls of the Doge’s Palace

The Doge’s Palace in Venice from the inside is even more interesting than from the outside: it has a large number of halls, which amaze not only the luxurious interiors, but also the abundance of artistic and historical sites. The building has a total of three floors and a separate level with loggias.

Hall of the Great Council at the Doge’s Palace

The Purple Room is one of the first places that tours visit. It was where prosecutors and officials waited to be received by the Doge. All of them wore dark red vestments, indicating their high position in society. The rich decoration of the walls and ceiling with bas-reliefs and sculptures attracts the attention of all the guests, but as in all the other rooms no photographs are allowed.

The Great Council Hall is considered the most significant room in terms of size and decorations. Its area is 1,350 square meters, the ceiling is 15 meters high, and it is located in the south wing of the Doge’s Palace. It is one of the largest rooms in the world that has no internal ceilings or support columns.

A monumental painting by Tintoretto adorns the hall. The painting, titled “Paradise,” is of impressive dimensions: 22 meters long and 7 meters wide. On the ceiling you can see the masterpiece of fine art “Triumph of Venice”. This oval canvas, painted by Paolo Veronese, looks chic in the frame of heavy gilded patterns. Near the eastern wall, a pedestal has been preserved where the throne of the Doge and the seats of the six notable members of the Council are set up. In the same room are portraits of all the rulers of the city on the water, the exception being Marino Faliero, the Doge, who was executed for treason. Instead of a picture of him, a black scroll with the ruler’s name and guilt was placed on the wall.

Interiors of the Doge’s Palace

You can admire the symbol of Venice in all its glory in the Grimani Hall and the Hall of Lions – the winged predator with a book in sculptural and pictorial embodiments looks at guests literally from all surfaces. Fans of geographical rarities will love the Cards room. There are ancient manuscript maritime documents and two huge globes, dating back to the XVII century. Of particular interest are copies of Marco Polo’s maps, as well as ancient topographic sketches of Tartary (land stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific coast).

The Doge’s Palace in Venice can rightly be proud of its vast collection of masters of fine art, there are works by famous artists of the world. Paintings by Hieronymus Bosch are on display in the hall of the Magistrate, as are masterpieces by other Dutch painters. Veronese panels and works by Tintoretto hang in the Collegium Hall, and frescoes by Titian adorn the Philosophers’ Hall.

In addition to the stately apartments where the ruling ranks sat, the Palazzo Ducale houses two prisons. These rooms, like the torture chamber, the scaffold and the hall of the Inquisition, are classified as secret. The standard guided tour does not include a tour of these attractions; to see the medieval cells for prisoners, the rooms of the Council of Three and the Council of Ten, a separate ticket must be purchased.

Prison of the Doge’s Palace [pic|s=15]

The City of Cuenca and the Spanish Hanging Houses

One of the prisons is located in the attic of the building, during the Doge’s reign it was called the Piombi. The second is in the cellars below the water level and is called Pozzi or The Wells. The lead roof was very hot in the midday heat, so it was unbearably hot in the chambers of the Piombi, while in winter it was unheated. The semi-basement Pozzi, because of its location close to the water, was notorious for its cold and dankness. The constant excess moisture created inhuman conditions of confinement, but the horrors of the secret rooms of the Doge’s Palace did not stop there – torture was actively used on the prisoners. Among the prisoners were famous people, for example, Giordano Bruno was kept in the upper prison. Also under investigation here was the famous diver and lover of women, Giacomo Casanova, who later managed to escape.

Excursions to the Doge’s Palace

The museum works all year round, except for two holidays: Christmas and New Year. In winter (from November 1 to March 31) tour time is shortened, the shows are from 8:30 to 17:30. In summer (from April 1 to October 31), the Doge’s Palace opens its doors from 8:30 to 19:00. Visitors stop being allowed in one hour before the museum closes.

To get to the Palazzo Ducale you can take a special waterborne vehicle (Vaporetti). From the Santa Lucia or Piazzale Roma railway station, take bus numbers 1, 5.1, 4.1 (get off at the Vallaresso and San Zaccaria stops) and 2 (Giardinetti stop). The cost of tickets to the museum varies from 16 to 20 euros, for children 6-14 years the price is 8 euros, kids under 6 years can enter for free. The official website of the museum provides detailed information on the tours.

It is worth buying tickets in advance, as high demand, especially during the tourist season, can prevent you from seeing all the wonders of the Venetian Doge’s Palace. Most tours include a general sightseeing tour, which consists of sightseeing in the main halls. If you want to see the secret rooms, they are devoted to a separate route, which lasts 75 minutes. Without prior purchase of tickets to get there hard enough, these excursions held no more than 3 per day.

Doge’s Palace in Venice

Doge’s Palace is part of the architectural ensemble of Piazza San Marco and is a popular attraction in Venice. Nowadays the Doge’s Palace houses the City Museum.

To begin with, it is necessary to explain who the Doge are. Doge was the name of the heads of the Venetian Republic for almost 1000 years, from about the end of 7 to 18 centuries. The title was first mentioned in 697. At that time Venice was within the borders of Byzantium.

Interesting fact – The word Doge comes from the Latin dux, which means “guide”, “head”.

That is, it is quite possible to say that the Doge’s Palace is the residence of the rulers of Venice.

Where is it

Doge’s Palace is located on the Grand Canal in the southern part of Venice in Piazza San Marco. Geographic coordinates 45.433761, 12.340552.

A little history

Construction of the Doge’s Palace began, presumably in the early 9th century (around 810), after the Doge’s residence was moved to Venice from Malamocco. For many centuries the Palazzo Ducale (as the Doge’s Palace is called in Italy) was used as the seat of the Venetian government. Later the Council of the Republic used it for its meetings. At different periods it housed the Senate, the Supreme Court, and even the secret police. Downstairs there was room for the naval office, chancellery, censors’ office and lawyers’ offices.

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Doge's Palace

Diocletian’s palace in Silita was probably taken as an example. The first basilica was attached to the palace in 828 and was dedicated to St. Mark. The building was able to survive fires and sieges with dignity. It was even a mute witness to the murder of the Doge.

The palace was reconstructed in 976-979, turning it into a fortress with towers in the corners and a moat with water around the building. Also in the 12th century the palace was reconstructed. The castle became an elegant residence. In subsequent centuries the palace continued to be expanded. That is why the current appearance of the palace is quite different from the original.

Inner yard of Doge's Palace

The inner courtyard of the Doge’s Palace

The palace we see today was built between 1309 and 1424. The architect is believed to be Filippo Calendario. However, in 1577 part of the palace was badly damaged by fire. The reconstruction of the building was entrusted to the architect Antonio de Ponti. He, as you remember, created the famous Rialto Bridge.

Inimitable Gothic look, we observe today, the palace received as early as 1340. It was entrusted to Titian and Vironese to decorate the interior.

Since 1923 the building acquired the status of a museum.

Features of architecture

At first glance at the Doge’s Palace, it seems that it was built illogically. The massive building rests on a light airy base. One gets the impression that the palace has been turned upside down. But no, that was the intention of its creators.

Doge's Palace in Italy

The wings of the palace wrap around the courtyard with porticoes. The main facades are created in the Gothic Venetian style. Above the tiers of colonnades rises a body, which is inlaid with marble and has lancet windows. The arches of the upper colonnade are crowned by a trefoil. In the center of the facades are, framed by spires, balconies decorated with statues. Lightness of the building is given by thin carving of columns, marble ornament, toothed graceful cornice with spires of marble of pink and white colors.

The main gate of the Doge’s Palace

The so-called “Paper Gate”, which serves as the grand entrance, is made in the style of the flaming Gothic. They are decorated with decorative elements and allegorical sculptures. They had to be restored after being destroyed by the French.

Paper gate of Doge's Palace

The Paper Gate of the Doge’s Palace

On the side of the lagoon is the Grain Gate. Another one on the side of the Piazzetta is the Armory Gate. The entrance to the courtyard is decorated by the Triumphal Acre, which was dedicated to Doge Francesco Foscari. The pattern of the courtyard colonnades is similar to that of the outer facade.

Sculptures above the Paper Door

Sculptures above the Paper Door

Staircase of Giants

From the courtyard to the main entrance of the palace runs the impressive-sized Staircase of Giants. The steps are carved in Carrara marble. In the mid-16th century, the top of the stairs was decorated with huge marble statues of Mars and Neptune (from which the name Ladder of the Giants derives). They were considered the patrons of Venice. Construction of the stairs began in 1492.

Staircase of Giants

Staircase of the Giants

Golden Staircase

The Golden Staircase was an extension of the Staircase of Giants inside the building. It got its name from the gold foil finish. The Golden Staircase is completed by a square atrium whose plafond was painted by Tintoretto.

Golden Staircase

Golden Staircase

Great Council Hall

The Golden Staircase leads to it. It is the largest hall not even in Venice, but in all Italy. It is 54 meters long and 25 meters wide. The height of the hall is 15 meters. It occupied the entire south wing of the palace. In this hall stood the throne of the ruler (Doge) and six chairs for the members of the Small Council.

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The ceiling is decorated with a gigantic oval painting of the “Triumph of Venice” by Paolo Veronese.

For now in the Great Council Hall you will see a gallery with portraits of all 120 Doges of Venice.

Great Council Hall

Great Council Hall

An interesting fact – the place of one of the portraits is occupied by a black canvas with the inscription “Hic est locus Marini Faletro decapitati pro criminibus”, which translates to “This is the place of Marino Faliero, executed for crimes”. Marino Faliero was the 55th Doge of Venice. He attempted a coup d’état in 1355 to monopolize power. But the coup failed. Faliero was captured, condemned and had his head cut off.

The Hall of Elections (or the Hall of Destiny)

This is where you can go from the Hall of the Great Council. This is where the running for office of officials was publicly held, and at times convicted. In this hall you could pass a sentence (hence the name Hall of Fate).

Hall of Elections (or Hall of Destiny)

The hall of elections

It is an interesting fact that despite the heated debates, no one ever had the right to come in here with a gun.

The Hall of the Compass

In ancient times this room was a kind of antechamber before the Hall of the Council of Ten, and at the same time the Inquisition. Here the condemned awaited judgment. Here was also the famous “Lion’s Mouth” into which messages and denunciations were dropped.

The Hall of the Council of Ten

This hall was the seat of the tribunal which investigated political crimes against the state. The tribunal was chaired by the Doge and consisted of ten members of the Great Council and six advisers. Just above this hall were the prison cells (they were called Piombi, from the Italian word for lead, as the ceiling was made of lead). Giacomo Casanova and Giordano Bruno were once imprisoned in the prison cells.

Hall of the Council of Ten

Hall of the Council of Ten

The Hall of Maps.

It’s practically a geography classroom. On its walls hang maps, and in the center stand two large 17th-century globes.

Hall of Cards

The Hall of Maps

The Hall of the Collegium

This was practically the place where the entire government of Venice, the so-called Collegium, assembled. It was headed by the Doge and consisted of his six advisers, the elders, the heads of the Council of Ten and the Supreme Chancellor. In this hall the most important decisions of the government were made.

Hall of Collegium

The Hall of the Collegium

The prisons of the Doge’s Palace

In addition to the prison at the Doge’s Palace itself, the New Prison can be accessed via the legendary Bridge of Sighs, built over the Palace Canal.

Prison Casemates

Prison Casemates

There are two corridors across the Bridge of Sighs. The upper one leads to the New Prisons and the lower one to the portico of the Doge’s Palace.

Doge’s Palace in tourism

Such an iconic building, and in such an iconic place as Venice, of course, attracts masses of tourists. There are guided tours and exhibitions in the Doge’s Palace.

More information about the museum’s schedule, exhibitions and the cost of visiting the Doge’s Palace you can find on its official website.

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