Venice: Tour of the Doge’s Palace


The outside façade of the Doge’s Palace as seen from St. Mark’s Basin; the inner courtyard

Built in Venetian Gothic style, the Doge’s Palace is one of the primary landmarks and main tourist attractions in Venice.  Constructed during the twelfth century, it was the residence of “Il Doge”–the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice.  It opened as a museum in 1923 and is one of eleven operated by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.   The palace’s Gothic façade was restored in 1577 after the original building was gutted by fire.  (Source: Wikipedia)

We engaged a local guide for a private–and extremely informative–tour of the palace and the adjoining prison.  She was extremely well informed, and we considered it money well spent as we were able to view a number of rooms inside the palace and gain a tremendous amount of knowledge about the role of the Doges–as well as the history of Venice itself.   We were permitted to photograph the Golden Staircase (Scala d’Oro), but not the lavishly ornate institutional chambers.  There are many fascinating stories connected to the palace…

The 55th Doge unsuccessfully plotted a coup and was executed.   The Hall of the Great Council boasts an elaborate frieze of paintings depicting the first 76 doges–except for the 55th Doge, whose place on the wall is covered by a black veil.  He was condemned to “Damnatio Memoriae,” whereby all memory of him was expunged from history–officially, anyway.

A “Lion’s Mouth” postbox is located near the court chambers inside the palace.  It is locked and can be opened only from inside the palace–with a key.  It was placed there for informants who wished to deposit anonymous denunciations into it.  Translated, the text reads… “Secret denunciations against anyone who will conceal favors and services or will collude to hide the true revenue from them.”  The early version of Big Brother!

We crossed the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison.  The bridge name–given by Lord Byron in the 19th century–comes from the idea that prisoners would sigh as they glimpsed beautiful Venice for the last time as they crossed the bridge into the prison.  Local legend says that lovers will be granted eternal love and happiness if they kiss under the bridge in a gondola at sunset as the bells of St. Mark’s Campanile toll.

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