At the heart of the powerful Venetian Republic, the magnificent Doge’s Palace was the official residence of the doge (ruler). Originally built in the 9th century, the present palace dates from the 14th and early 15th centuries and is adorned with glorious paintings and sculptures. To create their airy Gothic masterpiece, the Venetians perched the bulk of the palace (built in pink Veronese marble) on top of an apparent fretwork of loggias and arcades (built from white Istrian stone).
SALA DEL CONSIGLIO DEI DIECI
This was the meeting room of the immensely powerful Council of Ten, founded in 1310 to investigate and prosecute people for crimes concerning the security of the state. Napoleon pilfered some of the paintings by Paolo Veronese from the ceiling, but two of the finest found their way back in 1920: Age and Youth and Juno Offering the Ducal Crown to Venice (both 1553—54). Offenders awaited sentence in the nearby room, the Sala della Bussola. In the same room is a bocca di leone (lion’s mouth), used to post secret denunciations, one of several in the palace. Convicts were sent across the Bridge of Sighs for incarceration.
THE BRIDGE OF SIGHS
According to legend, the Bridge of Sighs, built in 1600 to link the Doge’s Palace with the new prisons, takes its name from the lamentations of the prisoners as they made their way over to the offices of the feared State Inquisitors. Just below the leaded roof of the Doge’s Palace are the piombicells. Prisoners held here were more comfortable than those in the pozzi cells in the dungeons at ground level. One of the more famous inmates was the Venetian libertine Casanova, who was incarcerated here in 17S5. He made a daring escape from his cell in the piombi through a hole in the roof.
The Doge’s Palace was the Venetian Republic’s seat of power, and home to its rulers. New doges were nominated in the Sala dello Scrutinio, and were chosen from the members of the Maggior Consiglio, Venice’s Great Council. A lengthy and convoluted system was used to count votes during dogal elections: a method designed to prevent candidates from bribing their way to power. Once elected, a doge occupied the post for the rest of his lifetime, but numerous restrictions were placed on him in an attempt to prevent him from exploiting his position. Despite the precautions, many doges met their deaths in office, or were sent into exile for activities such as conspiring against the state. Others survived in office for many years: the diplomat doge Leonardo Loredan ruled for 20 years.
Sala del Maggior Consiglio
This vast hall was used as a meeting place for members of Venice’ s Great Council. Tintoretto’s huge Paradise (1590) fills the end wall.
Porta della Carta
This 15th-century Gothic gate is the principal entrance to the palace . From it, a vaulted passageway leads to the Arco Foscari and the internal courtyard.
This triumphal arch features copies of Antonio Rizzo’s 15th-century marble statues of Adam and Eve.
Scala dei Giganti
The 15th-century Giant’s Staircase is crowned by Jacopo Sansovino’s huge statues of Mars and Neptune, symbols of Venice’s power.
Sala dello Scudo
The walls of this room, once part of the doge’s private apartments, are covered with maps of the world. In the center of the room are two giant 18th-century globes.
Interrogations took place here. Suspects were hung by their wrists from a cord in the center of the room.
Drunkenness of Noah
This early-15th century sculpture, symbolic of the frailly of man, is set on the corner of the palace.
Ponte della Paglia
Built of lstrian stone, this bridge has a pretty balustrade of columns and sculpted pinecones.
The loggia on the 2nd floor of the Doge’s Palace
Large and allegorical historical paintings by great artists of the day, such as Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto, adorn the palace’s walls and ceilings. They were designed to impress and overawe the doge’s vistors.
Early 800s: A square fortress is built on the site, but is destroyed by a fire in 976.
1106: Another fire destroys the replacement building.
1340-1424: A Gothic palace is built to house the Great Council.
1419: The Sala del Maggior Consiglio is inaugurated.
1600: The covered walkway nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs is built.