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. Over the course of centuries, it has 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 edifice 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 the restoration efforts, recreating gilded stucco, sculptures, frescoes, and canvases that returned the palace to its former glory.

Externally, the palace exhibits a blend of Byzantine and Gothic architectural styles, while the interior exudes Classical elements, leading art critic John Ruskin to proclaim it "the central building of the world". Inside, visitors are treated to a lavish display of furnishings, paintings, and elaborately adorned ceilings. Of notable grandeur is the Grand Council chamber, featuring Tintoretto's monumental "Paradise", reputedly the largest oil painting in the world. Equally magnificent is the Sala dello Scrutinio, or "Voting Hall," adorned with paintings depicting Venice's glorious past.

In stark contrast, the opposite side of the canal reveals the grim remnants of medieval justice—the prison cells. Linked to the outside world by the Bridge of Sighs ("Ponte dei Sospiri"), these cells serve as a haunting reminder of the horrors endured by prisoners who faced torture and potential death at the hands of the city's appointed state inquisitors. The term "sighs" refers to the lamentations of countless victims forced across the bridge.

To get the most of your time at the Doge's Palace, consider using the infrared audio guide available at the entrance, which provides a captivating narrative of the 1,000-year-old maritime republic of Venice and the intricacies of its former government.

***CASANOVA TOUR***
At the age of 30, on the fateful night of 25 July 1755, Casanova found himself arrested, accused of offending religion and common decency. Shockingly, he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment without even being granted a trial. His confinement took place in the Doge's Palace, where he was confined to a cell beneath the lead-covered roof. In the sweltering summer months, the oppressive heat turned his place of incarceration into an unbearable oven, further exacerbated by the torment of countless fleas infesting the premises.

Physically, Casanova was not far from the opulence of Venice and the seat of power, yet the psychological distance between his confinement and the world outside was immeasurable. Enduring 15 months of torment and despair, he finally hatched a daring plan to escape. Creating a hole in the ceiling, he ingeniously fashioned ropes from bed sheets and descended to freedom. This remarkable escape made Casanova the only person ever to break free from the prison of the Doge's Palace. Seeking sanctuary, he first sought refuge in Munich, then continued his journey to Strasbourg, eventually concluding his odyssey by coach to Paris, where he would start a new life.

Tip:
Make sure to book in advance for the guided "Secret Itinerary" tour – an exclusive experience grants access to otherwise restricted quarters and hidden passageways, including the Doge's private chambers, the interrogation rooms where prisoners were questioned, and the two cells once occupied by Casanova.

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 Apple App Store or Google Play Store. 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:

Walking Tours in Venice, Italy

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