Doge’s Palace: Know Before You Go

The History behind the Doge’s Palace

Doge’s Palace General Information

The Doge’s Palace (in Italian: Palazzo Ducale), is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, composed of layers of building elements and ornamentation from its 14th and 15th century original foundations to the Renaissance and Mannerist adjunctions.

In 810, Doge Angelo Partecipazio moved the seat of government from the island of Malamocco to the current Rialto area, when it was decided that the Palazzo Ducale should be built. But no trace exists of that 9th century building. The current Palace dates back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Initially, it was probably an agglomeration of buildings used for different purposes and was then walled for protection.

Little did the first Doge to live in it know, but the Palace would then become a symbol of the massive intellectual, artistic and military power that the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia would exercise not only on the Adriatic sea but in the whole of Europe.

Opening Hours

From April to October, the Doge’s Palace opens at 8:30 and closes at 21:00, with prolongated hours from Friday to Sunday, closing at 23:00. From November to March, the Palace opens at 8:30 and closes at 19:00 every day. Remember that the last admission is always half an hour before the current closing hour.

Buying Tickets

There are many different ways of getting access to the Doge’s Palace, the most popular is the St. Mark’s Square Museum ticket, which includes entrance to the Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.

Discounts are granted to children from 6 to 14 yeard old, students aged from 15 to 25 years old, holders of the Venice Rolling Card, and holders of the International Student Identity Card.

Free Admission is grated to Venetian citizens and residents: ICOM members, children aged from 0 to 5, disabled people with a helper, and tourist guides enabled in Italy accompanying groups or individual visitors.

You can find further information regarding prices and overall regulation on the official website of the Doge’s Palace.

Inside the Doge’s Palace

Courtyard & The Loggias

As you walk inside the palace through the Porta del Frumento, the oldest side of the building, you will find the Piazetta and the Renaissance wings on the two sides, with the end closed by the conjunction between the Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, where the Doge’s chapel used to be. On the center of the courtyard, you will find two well-heads dating back from the 16th century.

One of the most amazing sights here is the Giants’ Staircase. Used only on formal occasions, this staircase is guarded by statues of Mars and Neptune, a symbol of Venice’s power both on land and sea.

After the Censors’ Staircase and the famous Gold Staircase, you will be on the Loggias. Two important plaques are to be found here: a Gothic lettering promising favors to those who give donations to the prisoners, and another celebrating the visit of French King Henri III to Venice. Here you have access to the upper floors, where various Government duties were carried on a daily basis.

Institutional Chambers

The Institutional Chambers housed the main organs of the political and judicial administrative functions of the Republic, envied by the major powers of Europe. Why? Not only they kept their democratic tradition for centuries, despite having no written constitution whatsoever, but they managed to maintain a prolongated inner peace and prosperity that no other place in the continent has seen.

As you walk across the many rooms, you will find the places where important institutional bodies met, such as the Great Council, the Senate, the Collegio, the Council of Ten, etc. In all of the rooms, the decoration was chosen and designed to indicate the role the bodies that met within them had in the Republic, as well as celebrate the virtues of the Venetian State.

Doge’s Apartments

The Doge’s Apartments were always located between the Rio della Canonica and the Golden Staircase, near the Basilica of Saint Mark where the Ducal Chapel used to be. In the late 15th century, the whole place burned down and was then rebuilt in Renaissance style. The rooms currently found there date back to this renovation.

Until the 17th century, the Doge’s Apartments were used for the Doge’s private life and affairs. Although prestigious, the place was not particularly large or luxurious. Prior to their elections, the Doges usually had a much larger house with more luxurious services than the ones offered by the Republic. Taking office was a clear message that the Doge is not an absolutist king, he is a servant of the people.

Museo dell’Opera

Throughout the centuries, the Doge’s Palace took many hits: fires, structural failures, infiltrations, and floodings. To fix these, many rebuilding projects took place. Since the Middle Ages, these restoration and maintenance activities were carried by an office called the Opera, or fabbriceria.

During the mid 19th century, the very survival of the building was questioned, due to a high degree of decay. To prevent collapsing, a major restoration project was started. The work involved rebuilding two facades and the columns belonging to the ground-floor arcade and the upper loggia, 42 in total were in such a bad state that they needed to be completely replaced by copies.

The problem is that these pieces that were removed were masterpieces of Venetian sculpture from the 14th and 15th centuries. You can’t just throw that out on the trash. For that reason, these works of art were kept in a new area of the Palace: the Museo della’Opera.

Armoury

The rooms of the Armoury contain an impressive historical collection of weapons from many different sources, with its main body being as old as the 14th century.

At the time of the Republic, the Armoury was under the control of the Council of Ten, and stocked weapons which needed to be readily available for the Palace’s guards. On special occasions, the guards were joined by the arsenalotti, an elite-squad of workers from the shipyards of the Arsenale.

The collection of weapons was partially dispersed after the fall of the Republic, but today it still comprises 2000 original pieces. These include incredible 15th and 16th-century suits of armour, swords, halberds, quivers, and crossbows. You will be able to notice that most of the equipment contains the inscription “CX“, which stands the Council of Ten.

Prisons

One of the most famous constructions from the Palace itself can be found here: the Bridge of Sighs. Lots of couples come to the outside of the Palace to take pictures together in front of this wonderful view, but in reality, the name of the building comes from the fact that prisoners would often sigh as they entered the prison, for that would be the last time they would see the beauty and freedom stemming from Venice. Not that romantic.

Here was the seat of the judiciary branch of the Republic, including the chambers of the magistrates known as the Notte al Criminal. The Doge’s Palace always contained prisons, but in the mid-16th century, a new structure was built on the other side of the canal to house larger and better-lit cells for prisoners. It was connected to the Doge’s Palace by the Bridge of Sighs and contained its own courtyard.

Doge’s Palace Tips & Tricks

Avoid The High Season

I believe there is no need to say that Venice often gets flooded not just by water but also by tourists. But just like the Acqua Alta (high tides), the tourist waves come seasonally.

If you come from October to April, you will have a much better experience visiting the Doge’s Palace. It’s safe to say that if you go early in the morning or late in the evening, you might even find yourself alone in the major chambers of the Palace. An experience like this would be impossible during the summer months.

Save A Little Money

I mentioned before that the most common way of getting access to the Palace is through the combined museum ticket. But there is an even cheaper way of getting inside: the Venezia Unica City Pass.

This pass allows not only for entrance to the Doge’s Palace but also to all other civic museums of the city, major churches as well as a free pass to the city’s transport system for a given period of time. All of this without needing to wait in line.

Prague Castle: Know Before You Go

The History Behind the Prague Castle

The Prague Castle was founded around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty. According to the Guinness World Records, it is the largest castle complex in the whole world, with an area of almost 70,000 m².

A UNESCO World Heritage site, it consists of a large-scale composition of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various architectural styles. Since the Velvet Revolution, Prague Castle has gone through extensive and significant renovations. It is now the place where the presidential elections take place and the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic.

Prague Castle General Information

Opening Hours

Unlike other castles in Europe, there is a lot of opportunities to see the Prague Castle time-wise. The complex is open daily from 5:00 to 00:00, so you will have a lot of time to explore. Just be aware that the places where entrance tickets are required are open from 9:00 to 17:00 (9:00 to 16:00 on winter) only.

Buying Tickets

You can buy the tickets at the information centers of the Prague Castle at the second and in the third courtyards, at the Prague Castle Picture Gallery, at the Old Royal Palace and at two ticket offices at the Golden Lane.

The Prague Castle complex is huge, encompassing a whole set of buildings and facilities that will take a long time to see. For that reason, the visits to the complex are divided into three main circuits:

Circuit A: St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, exhibition “The Story of Prague Castle”, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, Rosenberg Palace.

Circuit B: St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower.

Circuit C: Exhibition “The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral”, Prague Castle Picture Gallery.

Apart from the main circuits, tickets are also sold for individual exhibitions, such as the “The Story of Prague Castle”, “The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral”, the Prague Castle Picture Gallery, and the Great South Tower with a View Gallery.

Discounts are in place for kids from 6 to 16 years old, secondary school and university students until 26 years old, as well as seniors past 65 years old.

Free Admission is in place for children under the age of 6, disability ID Card holders (including, if necessary, one accompanying person), licensed EU guides with clients holding purchased tickets to castle buildings, and teachers accompanying school groups.

You can find further information regarding prices and overall regulation on the official website of the Prague Castle.

Photography

It is important to note that photographing inside the Castle is not free. It will cost you 50 CZK, and it is allowed only without a flash or a tripod. Apart from that, photographing is prohibited in the exhibitions “The Story of Prague Castle”, “Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral”, and “Prague Castle Picture Gallery”.

Inside the Prague Castle Complex

Old Royal Palace

The Old Royal Palace was the seat of Czech rulers for centuries. Built during the 12th century, it was rebuilt several times for many different reasons, resulting in a mix of multiple architectural styles, mostly Gothic and Renaissance.

The Palace was built exactly in 1135 by Sobeslav I, the duke of the Premyslid dynasty. It was meant to be a luxury Romanesque palace resembling the German architecture of the time.

In the 14th century, the Palace was rebuilt in Gothic style by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. He made the palace stand to the level of his power, by expanding it and creating a more modern and imponent look. Part of these modifications spread throughout the whole city, and other historical buildings of extreme importance were built, such as the Charles Bridge and the St. Vitus Cathedral.

Due to the Hussite Wars in the 15th century, the Old Royal Palace became empty for many years. But it became again the rulers seat in 1483 when Vladislav Jagielo moved in. He was responsible for building the famous Vladislav Hall and the Louis Tract, which were designed by Benedikt Ried.

The Habsburgs modified the castle in the 16th century, to make it more comfortable and adapted to their needs. After the great fire of 1541, though, many areas of the Old Royal Palace had to be rebuilt, including the All Saints Chapel and the Old Diet. In the 18th century, the Theresian Wing was built.

Exhibition The Story of Prague Castle

Unfortunately, here you are not allowed to take pictures.

The Story of Prague Castle is a permanent exhibition that started in April 2004, which the goal of reminding local as well as foreign visitors of the millennia-old history of the place where Czech history was made.

The exhibition takes place on the authentic premises of the Gothic floor in the Old Royal Palace. The items displayed here are original relics from the Prague Castle collection, such as the tomb of Přemysl Otakar II, the statue of St. George cast by George and Martin of Cluj, and the Hatchment of Rudolf II.

St. George‘s Basilica

The St. George’s Basilica is the second oldest church in Prague, and the oldest preserved at the Prague Castle. Also one of the most important Romanesque buildings in the whole country, this church was founded in 920 by Premyslid Duke Vratislav I, intended to be the main sanctuary of Bohemia.

It was the burial place of the rulers from the Premyslid dynasty until 1055. Many rulers from the early existence of the country are to be found buried there. The church also hosted the tombs of Christian martyrs such as St. Ludmila, but her relics were later moved to the Chapel of St. Ludmila.

The most imponent sights of the basilica are the two white prismatic towers, which were added in the 12th century. The narrow tower was called ‘Eve’ and the bigger southern one was called ‘Adam’.

The western frontage with the brick-red facade is Early Baroque, from the 17th century. It is decorated with statues of the founder Vratislav I and Mlada, the first abbess of the near convent. The southern entrance has a Renaissance tympanum, where the fight of St. George against the dragon is displayed.

St. Vitus Cathedral

Matthias of Arras from France and Petr Parler from Swabia were the first builders of the St. Vitus Cathedral, during the 14th century. Parler’s sons continued their father’s work until the Hussite Wars commenced in 1419. The cathedral was only entirely finished in the 19th century by Josef Kranner, Josef Mocker, and Kamil Hilbert.

The neo-Gothic frontage with two spires on the west is adorned with 14 statues of Czech saints, Emperor Charles IV and archbishop Arnost of Pardubice. There are three main portals leading to the nave, which have tympanums decorated with reliefs.

The famous Golden Gate can be found in the southern frontage at the third courtyard. It used to be the main entrance to the cathedral originally. Created in 1370 by Petr Parler, it is decorated with a unique mosaic, very unusual outside Italy, which is made of about one million glass grits with more than 30 color shades. It depicts Christ in the center surrounded by angels and Czech saints kneeling underneath them. Charles IV is also depicted here, kneeling by the middle arch and his wife Elisabeth of Pomerania on the other side.

The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral

Unfortunately, here you are not allowed to take pictures.

The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral is a collection of important antiquities from the era of St. Wenceslas, and most of all of Charles IV.

Here you can find the tomb of St. John of Nepomuk, the martyr who was executed at the Charle’s Bridge, as well as 6 tombs of Premyslid rulers, a tomb of Prague archbishop Jan Ocko of Vlasim, and more.

The beautiful church windows are an attraction in itself, these were made in the 20th century by important artists of the epoch such as Max Svabinsky and Alfons Mucha.

Golden Lane

The first houses were built here around the 15th century to accommodate the city’s goldsmiths, hence the original name of the street being ‘Goldmakers Lane’. These houses were demolished in 1591, but six years later, Emperor Rudolpho II let 24 Prague Castle’s fusiliers build their houses there.

As time passed, other craftsmen and servants built their houses there. According to legend, some of these were Alchemists accommodated there by the Emperor himself. Their task was simple: turn simple metals into gold. This fact could have also originated the current name.

Since the 19th century, these houses have been rented to common people. One of the most famous inhabitants was Franz Kafka, who lived in house no. 22 with his sister Ottla in 1916 and 1917. Apparently, the Golden Lane by the Prague Castle was the inspiration for his book ‘The Castle’.

Unfortunately, here you are not allowed to take pictures.

Originally the collection of Emperor Rudolph II, the Prague Castle Picture Gallery changed many times throughout the centuries. Nowadays, there are pantings arranged according to their school, such as the Dutch, German and Italian.

The entrance to the place is located on the second courtyard, where the imperial stables used to be. Remains of the former Church of Our Lady from the 9th century, the oldest stone building in Prague, can also be found there.

The Gallery, as mentioned before, initially comprised the works of art kept by Emperor Rudolph II. After Rudolph’s death, his successor Mathias brought his own to the Castle from Vienna. Unfortunately, most of these original pieces were taken away as war booty by the Swedish army during the Thirty Years’ War.

The collection was enlarged again in 1650 by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, who bought over 500 paintings from Antwerp for his brother Emperor Ferdinand III.

After Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, the collection was further expanded by new Baroque paintings as well as Czech art from the 19th century. Nowadays the Picture Gallery has almost 4000 items, including the remains of the original collection of Rudolph II, including pantings from P. Veronese, A. Dürer and J. Heintz.

Rosenberg Palace

The Rosenberg Palace served many purposes throughout the years. The first houses were built there during the 13th century but eventually burned down during the great fire of 1541.

After the fact, the Rosenberg family, owners of the area, decided to build a large residence there. Designed to be a Renaissance palace by Hans Vlach, the palace had four-wings, two with arcades. The Rosenbergs later purchased more of the area around and built a large garden, with an arcade designed by Ulrico Avostalis in 1574.

In the early 17th century, Emperor Rudolph II purchased the place, ordering a wooden corridor to be built connecting the house and the Louis Tract of the Old Royal Palace.

The place would later become the Residence for Noblewomen by 1756, where 30 poor noblewomen lived, all of them 24 years old or older. They lived on the first and second floors, the rest of the building comprised a capitular room, a sacrarium, a chapel, and the abbess apartment.

The Residence for Noblewomen was abolished in 1919, nowadays the building hosts several offices of the Prague Castle’s administration, as well as the office of the president of the Czech Republic.

Great South Tower of the Cathedral

The St. Vitus Cathedral also possesses a lookout tower on the southern entrance. It was started in the 14th century but only finished between 1560 and 1562 by Bonifác Wohlmut and Hans Tirol. The lookout tower is also called “the Big Bell Tower” because it accommodates the bell Sigismund, the biggest in Prague.

The tower itself is 97 meters high. You can climb it and have an amazing panoramic view of Prague. But be warned that the climb is extremely exhaustive and not meant for unfit people. The stairs are also very narrow and can be slightly claustrophobic. But if you manage to get to the top, you will be rewarded with a view which will be pretty difficult to forget.

Prague Castle Tips & Tricks

Come Early in the Morning

If you want to peacefully enjoy the Prague Castle you should arrive there early. By midday, the place will already be filled with tourists, which means noise, flashes and bumping into each other. Believe me, you really will not appreciate as much the place once it gets too crowded.

You can arrive at 8:30, 30 minutes before the ticket offices open, and explore the whole complex before entering the buildings. Getting acquainted with the place will make you save time and energy later on. Take into consideration that the Prague Castle is up a hill and the climb will take you a good half hour. Once you get your tickets, you can finally enjoy the Castle complex stress-free.

Watch the Change of Guards

Every hour starting from 7:00 you can witness the Changing of the Guard at the first courtyard of the Prague Castle. The best time to go is at noon when there is a ceremonial exchange of flags and a trumpet call. Just make sure to keep distance and let the guards do their job.

Visit the Defenestration Window

The uprising of the Bohemian Estates against the Habsburgs began with the Second Prague Defenestration in 1618. Those who took part in the event were representatives of the Bohemian aristocratic anti-Habsburg opposition headed by Jindřich Matyáš Thurn and Václav Budovec. Under their leadership, a group of aristocrats broke into the Bohemian Chancery on 23 May 1618.

The insurgents accused the pro-Habsburg royal governors of disturbing the peace in the Bohemian Kingdom. As a result of a physical altercation, the governors Vilém Slavata of Chlum and Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice were thrown out of the window of the chancery. The consequences of the defenestration were severe: the Thirty Years’ War.