DOGE'S PALACE, VENICE
One of Italy's grandest and most historical town halls, Vence's Palazzo Ducal (Doges or DucalPalace) is a massive Gothic-Renaissance building built in 1309, and rebuilt after a 1577 fire. The public halls of the Doge's Palace are heavily decorated with canvases and frescoes by Venice's greatest artists—works by Veronese and Tintoretto are exceedingly abundant.
VISITING THE DOGE PALACE IN VENICE
- Address: San Marco, 1, Venice
- Hours: Daily 8:30 - 7:00 (closes 5:30 in winter), last admission one hour before closing. Closed January 1 and December 25
- Information: web site; Tel. (0039) 041-2715-911
- Admission: €16 (as of 2012) for Saint Mark's Square Museums Pass, includes 3 other museums. Reduced price for over age 65, be sure to ask at ticket window. Doge's Palace is also included in the 11-museum pass, good for a longer period.
- Buying Tickets in Advance: You can avoid the ticket line with a Venice Musuem Pass that includes either 4 or 11 museums and is good for one month. Purchase in US dollars online at visitmuve.it/en/home.
- Tours: The Secret Itineraries Tour includes a visit to secret passageways, prisons, an interrogation room, and the infamous Bridge of Sighs, must be reserved in advance.
GETTING TO SAN MARCO SQUARE AND THE DOGE PALACE
The sign posted route from the train station walks you through the tourist maze and will take about 20 minutes to an hour and a half depending on the crowds and how much you get distracted by the shops. If you are arriving early I would suggest taking the water bus to San Marco Square and start you adventure there. Otherwise do not follow the tourist signs just strike out on your own and stumble onto the square.
A LITTLE ABOUT THE DOGE PALACE
To fully understand Venice the unique place it holds in history, you should visit the Doge's Place in San Marco. There are audio guides available at the main ticket counter that leads you through the multiple rooms. There is also the "Secret Itinerary" Tour, if you wish to pay a the price, but I do not think it is a must. If you are a scholar of the history, yes you get a few more glimpses into the Republic's Myth but as a visitor you are not getting your money's worth.
The Palazzo once was the Doge's residence and the highest seat of power in the Republic, it was a symbol of power and put on display the richness and splendor of the State.
Off the back of the building, you cross over the famous, enclosed Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri), named by romantic-era writers who imagined condemned prisoners letting out a lament as they crossed and got their final glimpse of Venice and her lagoon through the tiny windows in the center. The cells on the other side preserve the scrawls and graffiti of ancient prisoners.
The Bridge of Sighs crosses the Rio di Palazzo, so for the full effect you need to see it from the outside. Best vantage point: stand on the next bridge down the canal, a wide bridge crossing the Rio di Palazzo along the Riva degli Schiavoni. (I call it the "Bridge of Tourists Looking at the Bridge of Sighs.")
Getting voted off the island
Any Venetian citizen could accuse someone of misdeeds by writing the denunciation down and slipping it through specially placed "Lion's Mouth" slots in the Palazzo Ducale's walls. While this activity sounds like prime breeding ground for backstabbing, it was a highly regulated procedure. All accusations had to be signed and witnessed, and if they proved merely to be slanderous and not actionable, the would-be denounced was in serious legal trouble of his own.
The real governing of the VenetianRepublic was not done here in plain sight. True power was wielded in a network of low-ceilings, wooden-plank corridors and tiny offices wrapped around this public palace like a clandestine cocoon, the entrances hidden behind secret doors set into all those fancy oil paintings and carved woodwork of the public rooms.
Here private secretaries kept records and compiled accusations made against people both lowly and high-placed (see the box to the right).
The only way to see this inner sanctum, is to take the· 90-minute "Secret Itineraries" tour. The·"Secret Itineraries"·tour will show you where the dreaded Council of Ten met to decide the fate of the Republic,·the inquisition room, and the "plumbio" the lead lined prison cells·where your guide will recount the tale of Casanova's famous escape.
After the tour, you are free to to tour the rest of the palace's public rooms on your own.
WHO WERE THE DOGE OF THE VENICE EMPIRE
The Palazzo Ducale is Venice's ducal palace, and in old Venetian dialect, the duke was called the doge or doxe, after the Latin dux, a military leader (which is what dukes originally were; the title of "duke" was the feudal equivalent to "army general.")
In Venice, the doge·was the head of state, but acted in essence as the highest-level servant of the Republic.
A doge was elevated from among the aristocracy, was almost always of an extremely advanced age (they served for life, but no one wanted a Doge to have power for too long), and was chosen through a process filed with so much chance and round-robins of elimination as to be thoroughly fair and random.
The doge was paid a ridiculously enormous salary so that no outside force could afford to bribe him, and his every move was supervised. The system worked surprisingly well. From the first doge elected in AD 700 until Napoleon deposed the last one in 1797, only twice was the office betrayed by traitors or major corruption.
TIPS ON VISITING
- Planning your day: Touring the public areas will take about 45 minutes—maybe an hour to 75 minutes if you stop to read all the informative plaques. The Secret Itineraries tour takes roughly 75 minutes (after which you'll likely want to wander the public spaces for another 30 minutes or so).
- The standard admission ticket to the Doge's Palace actually covers four museums on the square its name is: "I Musei di Piazza San Marco" so you might as well use it to pop into at least the Museo Civico Correr, though if you're pressed for time, go ahead and skip the less interesting Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Archaeological Museum) and Sale Monumentali della Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (fresco-ed, monumental rooms of the Marciana Library).
- If, in addition to those museums on Piazza San Marco, you intend also to visit the Ca' Rezzonico and at least two of the other sights it covers—like the Ca’ Pesaro or the Glass Museum on Murano—go ahead and buy the Venice Museum Pass; it'll save you money.
- Visit after 1pm—and buy your ticket ahead of time at Venice Connected—and you can get an Afternoon Ticket at a slight discount.