Doge’s Palace Travel Guide
IntroductionBefore Italy became the country that we know it as today, back then, it was actually composed of multiple city-states that were each ruled by a different head of state. Among these city-states was the Republic of Venice which was at one point a major economic and maritime power in the area. The Repubblica di Venezia was headed by a “Doge” who was elected into this lifetime position by the local aristocracy, and was considered as the supreme authority by the people of Venice.
Every leader needs a seat of government, and in the year 810, the Doge Angelo Partecipazio decided to move this from one of the Venetian islands, the island of Malamocco, to what is now present-day Rialto. Here, he had built his palace, the Doge Palace or Palazzo Ducale, and though the original structure was later destroyed in a fire, the Doge’s seat of power remained here firmly planted here. The palace was rebuilt by the Doge who was in charge in the 1100s, Sebastiano Ziani, and he took the opportunity to redesign everything which would affect the entire layout of the Piazza San Marco and shape it into what we now see today.
Over the centuries, a number of fires would unfortunately destroy the Doge Palace, with each blaze immediately followed by a major reconstruction that would result in new facades, the addition of courtyards and new wings, as well as a shift in the style of its architecture and its interiors. In the 1500s, however, after another fire, it was decided to maintain its original Gothic style.
And so for centuries, despite the blazes and periods of rebuilding, the Doge Palace remained the residence of the head of state as well as the headquarters of political institutions of the Republic of Venice. This would all change in 1797, however, when the Napoleonic occupation of the city occurred, followed by Austrian rule, until the unification of Italy in 1866 when the position of Doge was no longer required. By this time, the palace also began serving as the home for various administrative offices as well as the Biblioteca Marciana and other important cultural institutions within the city.
By the late 1800s, though, the palace was showing signs of decay and was once more in need of a major facelift, and so the Italian government moved public offices in Venice elsewhere (with the exception of the State Office for the protection of historical Monuments) and provided the funds to restore the structure. In 1923, the state entrusted the local Venetian municipality officials with the task of running the palace as a museum, and finally in 1996, the Doge’s Palace became part of the Venetian museums network. With its rich history, its ornate exteriors and lavish interiors, it is now one of the top museums in Venice, and boasts of three floors which visitors can tour and explore.
What to SeeDoge’s Palace Interiors
While the Palazzo Ducale is known mainly as the seat of the government of the Republic of Venice, it stil is, as the name suggests, the palace of a sovereign. As can be expected from such a structure, its interiors are opulent and lavish, as befitting of the person it is meant to host, the Doge. Hence, the designs and decorations within the building are nothing short of spectacular, as almost every inch and every room is a riot of beautiful carvings and sculptures. Almost every wall and ceiling is also adorned with priceless paintings and other works of art, including stuccoed ceilings painted by Jacopo Tintoretto, as well as canvases that were painted by the likes of Titian and his nephew Marco Vecellio. Other notable artists whose work can be found at the palace are Paolo Veronese, Giambattista Tiepolo, Andrea Vicentino, and Palma Giovane, to name just a few. Glittering state offices, court rooms, parlors, ballrooms, and majestic staircases meant to impress foreign ambassadors with the power, wealth, and splendor of Venice were likewise richly decorated, and to this day, they continue to awe and inspire visitors.
Exteriors and Courtyard
The exterior of the Doge Palace is a masterful example of Gothic design. There are arcade statues by Filippo Calendario who was also the chief architect of the Doge’s Palace, and was also the designer of the open arcade that defines the exterior of the ground floor. He also designed several of the arcade sculptures, including the famous Drunkenness of Noah which can be found on the south façade’s corner. Then there is also the entrance gate between the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, the Porta della Carta, or “Paper Gate”, which was built in 1438. It was embellished with spires, carved trefoils, as well as statues, by the architect Bartolomeo Buon. Among his designs, the most notable of which would be the winged lion that is the symbol of Venice. Another notable sight would be the Foscari Arch, that is located past the Porta della Carta. It is a triumphal arch with beautiful statues by the celebrated sculptor Antonio Rizzo, and Gothic spires. Rizzo is also credited for designing the palace courtyard which is done in the Renaissance style.
When the Italian government decided to rescue the Doge Palace from the state of decay that it was in during the late 1800s to early 1900s, many elements of the building were removed for conservation purposes, and then replaced with replicas. Because these original elements mostly consisted of what is considered as 14th and 15th century masterpieces of Venetian sculpture, the items that were removed were housed in an area that was specifically meant to display and preserve them so that they may be appreciated by the public. This area is what is now known as the Mueseo dell’Opera, and now features these sculptures as well as fragments of statues and important architectural and decorative works in stone from the facades of the Palace.
The Bridge of Sighs and the New Prisons
When the New Prisons, or Pozzi (as opposed to the Old Prisons, or Piombi), were built in the 1600s, a bridge was also constructed to connect it to the Palace itself. The name of this famous bridge is said to refer to the sighs of prisoners as they were led from the courtroom, and they took one last look at freedom before they were taken to their cells.
The Secret Itineraries, or Itinerari Segreti, is a special tour designed by the museum that takes visitors deeper into the Doge Palace, and into areas that were considered private by the ruling officials of the Republic of Venice. In a city that is known for its air of mystery, this is where much of the political intrigue and subterfuge of the time was born. The tour last for more than an hour and includes a visit to areas such as the Office of the Great Chancellor, a figure who oversaw the State Archives as well as many important and secretive documents; the Chamber of the Secret Chancellery, where meetings among the members of old Venice’s equivalent of the Secret Service were held. There are also the torture chambers, as well as the Piombi or Old Prisons, where political prisoners or prisoners awaiting trial were held (the most famous of whom was Casanova). Included in the tour is the Inquisitor’s Chamber where only the highest-ranking magistrates were allowed, and where they discussed state secrets. These are just to name a few, and the Secret Itineraries tour is an exciting trip that is not to be missed.
Tips and Advice
- The Doge Palace is open from April to October, from 8:30 am to 7 pm. From November to March, the hourse are from 8:30am to 5:30 pm. Admission is allowed up to one hour before closing time. This location is closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
- The full ticket price (without using a combined museum pass) is EUR 16.00.
- It is possible to arrange a private visit to the Doge’s Palace after closing hours, but this will require a group of 15 people or more, and a special request to be sent to the admin office at least 5 working days before your desired date of visit. They will confirm availability for you, and if it is available, the full ticket cost is at EUR 55 per person.
- The Secret Itineraries tour in English lasts for more than an hour to an hour and a half, and normally begins at 9:55 am. The minimum group size is two people, and the maximum is 25. The full ticket price is EUR 20. It is available only via advanced booking, and requires a guide.
- It is also possible to arrange for the Secret itineraries tour to be held in the latter half of the day until closing hours, but will require a purchase of at least 15 tickets, plus an additional fee of EUR 31 per group.
- When joining a guided tour of at least 10 people, please note that audio equipment will be required. This can be rented from the venue at a cost of EUR 1 per person.
- As with most institutions in Italy, there are discounted ticket rates available. You can contact the museum directly or ask your tour operator for more information on how to avail of these rates.
- Regarding accessibility, all regular areas of the Doge Palace as well as the ground floor restrooms are fully accessible. Take note however, that accessibility will be an issue for those who are considering joining the Secret Itineraries tours arranged by the museum, or for those who wish to visit the prisons and armory. These areas usually consist of small spaces on different levels which are connected by steep and narrow stairs, and are therefore not recommended for those with mobility problems, pregnant women, and those who suffer from claustrophobia, vertigo, and cardio-respiratory disorders. Small children are also not allowed.