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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.