Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), Venice

Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), Venice (must see)

Built on the foundations of a 9th-century fortress, this palace is unquestionably the finest secular European building of its time which, in the course of centuries, had served many purposes, including Doge residence, seat of the Venetian government, court of law, civil office, and even a prison.

First built in the 14th century, much of the original palace was destroyed by fire in the 16th century reducing to ashes most of the art treasures held inside. Some of the greatest Venetian masters of the time, such as Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Bellini, and Tiepolo, contributed to restoring the palace to its former glory, recreating gilded stucco, sculptures, frescoes, and canvases.

A blend of Byzantine and Gothic architecture on the outside, inside the palace is all Classical which, in turn, led the art critic John Ruskin to declare it “the central building of the world”.

The interior of the palace – spectacular furnishings and paintings, marvelously adorned ceilings – reveals lavishness on the scale that is hard to match. The most outstanding is the Grand Council chamber, featuring Tintoretto’s “Paradise”, reportedly the world’s largest oil painting. Running up to it, in terms of grandeur, is the Sala dello Scrutinio or the “Voting Hall” embellished with paintings depicting Venice’s glorious past.

A stark contrast to this splendor are the cell-blocks on the opposite side of the canal – grim remnants of the horror of the medieval justice – linked to the outside world by the Bridge of Sighs by which the prisoners were led to their cells. The word “sighs” refers to the laments of the numerous victims forced across the bridge to face certain torture and possibly death at the hands of the state inquisitors appointed by the city.

To get the most of your time at Palazzo Ducale, use the infrared audio guide available at the entrance and hear a fascinating story of the 1,000-year-old maritime republic of Venice and the intricacies of the government that once ruled it.

***CASANOVA TOUR***

On the night of 25 July 1755, aged 30, Casanova was arrested for affront to religion and common decency and was sentenced to five years imprisonment without having had a trial. He was taken to the Doge's Palace and put in a cell under its roof, which was covered with lead plates. In summer, the lead roof absorbed the heat and turned the place into an oven, but prisoners also suffered greatly from the "millions of fleas".

Casanova's physical distance from the opulence of Venice and the center of government was negligible, the psychological distance immeasurable. Eventually, after 15 months of torment and despair, he managed to escape by making a hole in the ceiling and descending his way to freedom with bed sheet ropes. The only person ever to escape from the prison of Doge's Palace, he first sought refuge in Munich, then Strasbourg, and completed the final leg of his journey by coach to Paris, where he would start a new life.

Tip:
Book in advance for the guided "Secret Itinerary" tour that takes you into otherwise restricted quarters and hidden passageways, such as the Doge’s private chambers, the torture chambers where prisoners were interrogated, and the two cells that Casanova occupied.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am–7pm, last admission 6pm (Apr-Oct); 8:30am–5:30pm, last admission 4:30pm (Nov-Mar)

Want to visit this sight? Check out these Self-Guided Walking Tours in Venice. Alternatively, you can download the mobile app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play. The app turns your mobile device to a personal tour guide and it works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) on Map

Sight Name: Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)
Sight Location: Venice, Italy (See walking tours in Venice)
Sight Type: Attraction/Landmark
Guide(s) Containing This Sight:

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