A walk-through the Doge’s Palace in Venice

posted in: Europe, Heritage, Italy | 40
First Published on September 28, 2015

There is enough written about Venice – the romantic spirit of the city, the gondolas and the bridges, the Venice Film Festival, and so on. My visit to Venice was included a lot of these and hence, I am not going to really dwell on these right now. While I may decide to add a few more posts later on certain individual tourist attractions of Venice, in this one, I am going to walk you through my favorite Venetian Palace – The Doge’s Palace.

The first glimpse of Venice

The Palazzo Ducale or the Palace of Doge is instrumental to understanding the history of Venice. What makes it even more interesting are the artifacts that have been displayed in the museums within the Doge’s Palace. In fact, there are so many things to see in Doge’s palace that you will find even 2 hours quite less. And with their special tours like the Doge’s Palace secret itineraries tour , you can add a little more time.

With this virtual tour, I share a list of what to see in Doge’s Palace Venice. Remember this is not an exhaustive list – just the things you should not miss when you are out to explore Doge’s Palace. Let’s start with history of Doge’s Palace.

About the Doge

Most of the tour operators do not really cover this, though according to me, this should be the highlight of any visit to Venice. Located right in the main square of Venice – the Piazza San Marco or the St Mark’s Square, this palace was the power-house of the Republic of Venice. For those who are not familiar with the Doge, simply put, he was elected representative of Justice. I am sure, you have come across this funny representation of the Doge – a person with a curly-haired wig, like the one below.

Sculpted representation of the Doge-  along the Doge's Apartments in the Palazzo Ducale

While in reality they did not always looked like that, but well, you get the picture :-). 

The Doges were generally, the senior most members elected to rule and would rule for his entire life. He stayed in this palace, had his meetings here, passed judgements, imprisoned people – well basically – worked and lived here. Today, this palace has been converted into a museum for tourists to visualize the Doge’s life and work.

History of Doge’s Palace Venice

The Doge’s Palace history can be first traced to the 9th century but it was no where close to its current state. In fact, no trace of the building from that era can be found when you explore Doge’s Palace now. The entire structure was burnt and lost forever.

Side view of the Doge's Palace, Venice

That however, was not the first fire that this majestic Venetian Palace had to encounter. The history of Doge’s Palace is filled with numerous blazing incidents. A new palace was built out of the fortresses in the 10th century. It was expanded further to accommodate the growing Great council of Venice. The Doge’s Palace was no longer just the residence of the Doge but was now the office for the Doge and his council. It had rooms for hearings, a set of prisons, and halls for public and private meetings.

The Palace of Doge survived at least three more fires. Structures including the Doge’s apartments were destroyed and new ones were built over it. Some of the 10th and 13th-century parts of the Palace still remain – some of which you will see when you go through this tour of Doge’s Palace in Venice. The Palazzo Ducale was used by the French during Napolean’s rule, and then by the Austrian and finally by the Italians.

What to see in Doge’s Palace Venice

The Paper Gate of Doge’s Palace

Let’s start at the official entrance of the Palace. Right on the top, you see a winged lion along with a sculpture of a Doge bowing to it. This is to symbolize that the power of state is supreme over that of a single person. This entrance is called the Porta della Carta, meaning “Paper Gate” – so called as people with papers or petitions used to queue up here.

The Paper Gate - Official entrance of the Doge's palace. Note the winged lion emblem.

While I call this the official entrance, the museum gates do not really open here anymore. There is another entrance called the Porta del Frumento through which you can access the ticketing counter and start your tour.  As you enter the museum, you travel through smaller rooms that exhibit the various weapons, coins, and other artifacts found during the Doge’s reign. The rooms lead you to a huge courtyard within the palace.

Explore Doge’s Palace through its main courtyard

The courtyard of Doge's palace

The courtyard itself, is a treasure trove of sculpture. Right in the center is a small black fountain, while all around it you can see huge sculptures of various figures from history – including those of Adam and Eve. It feels a little over-whelming to be here owing the sheer number and size of these sculptures

The central courtyard in the Doge's Palace

Giant’s Staircase at Doge’s Palace

One of the most prominent features here is the Giants’ Staircase.

Giants' Staircase at the Doge's Palace

The staircase is not called so owing to its sheer size but owing the gigantic statues of Neptune and Mars. This leads to the hall where the Doge’s were crowned and in one particular case, beheaded. The statues of Neptune and Mars were erected to symbolize the power of Venice by land and sea. These statues are truly magnificent and the sheer size of it makes you feel like a Liliput. ;-). 

The detailing of the bodies of the statues is so amazing and precise that you can almost feel them flexing their muscles. 🙂

Doge’s Palace attractions – Foscari arch

Right opposite the Giant’s staircase, is an ornate Arch named after the Doge Foscari – the Foscari arch. This one is made of red Verona marble and Istrian stone and has numerous sculptures, including those of Adam and Eve. The arch leads to the current exit for the museum where if you turn right, you end up at the St.Mark’s Basilica. 

Foscari Arch at the Doge's Palace

From the courtyard, when you actually take a view, the palace seems to have four wings or divisions. Well, it is actually not the case. The palace has three wings while the fourth, adjoining the Foscari Arch and Giants’ Staircase is the St.Mark’s Basilica

Explore Doge’s Palace through its Golden Staircase – Scala D’Oro

Explore Doge's Palace through its Golden staircase - Scala D'Oro

From the ground floor, you have to climb up an ornate Golden staircase Scala D’Oro to the upper floors of the Doge’s palace. The staircase itself, is so ornate that you can spend some time just admiring the paintings on the same. And yes, the gold that you see is actual 24 carat gold.

The staircase leads to the upper parts of the Palace where you can view the expansive meeting rooms and the Doge’s apartments. 

Doge’s Apartments in Palazzo Ducale

This is a series of rooms that the Doge of Venice used when he was in power. Unlike the rest of the Palace of Doge, these rooms were less elaborate in terms of decor. The rooms, especially the Doge’s private chambers were decorated with the personal belongings of the Doge. Once the Doge died, his belongings were removed and replaced by those of the next elected Doge. Remember the Doge was just an elected representative of the Republic of Venice and hence, not really given too many privileges.

However, this does not mean that the rooms here are bare. Some of them have gorgeous paintings and fireplaces and then there are ones with detailed ceilings. The larger ones became the reception area for the Doge and his ministers. Currently, they all serve as an important part of the Venetian museum in Doge’s Palace.

Sadly, while I was out to explore Doge’s Palace, these rooms were closed for maintenance.

Hall of the Great Council in Doge’s Palace, Venice

Hall of the Great Council                                     Image Credits:Romain Moisescot under CC by NC ND 2.0

The Hall of the Great Council is a huge hall with some amazing paintings on the wall and the ceiling. This hall was used for public voting and could accommodate over 1500 people.

Called the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, this Chamber of Great Council has around 35 significant paintings on its ceilings. Below these paintings, along its sides, are portraits of the early Doges of Venice.

The hall houses an important attraction of Doge’s Palace is the “Il Paradiso” created by Tintoretto. This is actually a depiction of paradise and is said to be the largest oil painting on canvas in the world.

Senate Hall of Doge’s Palace

There are plenty of other halls or rooms which are equally ornate – including one where the Doge could receive important people, a room where the Council of 10 used to sit and the Room with 4 doors which is filled with sculptures.

While you explore these rooms, watch out for the ostentatious Senate hall with its ornate throne used by the Doge himself. This hall too, has many of Tintoretto’s works.

Bocca di Leone – the secret letterbox in Doge’s Palace

Bocca di Leone at Doge's Palace

Now here is an interesting piece – the Bocca di Leone as in the picture above, is not just any scary piece of sculpture but a secret letterbox. In the ancient days, any citizen who wished to be anonymous and wanted to report any criminal activity, wrote a complaint and dropped it through this box for the council to investigate. The mouth of the sculpture is where the slit is for the letterbox. Interesting? Who would you complain about had you been here ? Drop in a comment below and let me know 🙂

Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour through the prisons

Unfortunately for me, time was out and I could not do the unique Doge’s palace Secret Itineraries tour. This tour takes you through narrow passages and steep staircases into the prisons in the basement of the palace. You can experience the bleak atmosphere of the prison.

There are actually two sets of prisons that you can see on the Secret itineraries tour. The first is the old Prisons called the Piombi or the Leads. The name came from the lead roofs which doubled up to torture the prisoners. They would turn the cells into frigid zones during winter and sweltering hell-holes in summer. Some of them were so tiny that the prisoner could barely stand. Below them were the Pozzi cells that were a little better in terms of space but damp owing to the canal waters.

Prisons                         Image Credits: Dvdbramhall under CC by NC ND 2.0

Why I was particularly interested in going on this Secret itineraries tour of Doge’s Palace was to live the story of the one prisoner who had managed to escape – the famous Casanova. I am told that the tour takes you through his journey and let’s you imagine the daring escape he made. It was following his escape that the new block of prisons – Prigoni Nuove was made across the canal. The conditions of the New Prisons were a shade better.

To access the New prisons, you have to walk across the famous Bridge of Sighs .

Bridge of Sighs at Doge’s Palace

The Bridge of Sighs has an interesting story  – it is said that the prisoners who were sentenced could view the rest of Venice when passing over this bridge and used to sigh for they would most likely, never be allowed out again. Hence the name. 

Bridge of Sighs - a section that you can see on the Doge's Palace Secret itineraries tour

The white limestone bridge has small openings through which you can see a little of the canals. There are actually two passages made such you will not even know there is a person in the neighbouring one. Today this very Bridge of Sighs is the one that is considered lucky for eternal love. Couples on a gondola kiss below the bridge as a symbol of this love.

Other things to see in Doge’s Palace

Entrance to the Stairs with Hercules on the left and Atlas on the right.

There are just too many things to see at the Doge’s Palace. I fear that my short tour of the Palace was not enough. I would love to get back there again and add to this list but for now, make a note of these attractions around the Palazzo Ducale.

Posing against the Original Statue of St Theodore and the Water Dragon
  • Catch Atlas and Hercules by the entrance of the Golden Staircase.
  • Watch out for the very symbol of Venice – St Theodore slaying the Water Dragon. The original statue is kept in the Doge’s palace while the replica of it is displayed at the entrance of St. Mark’s Square. This statue is quite historic as it brings alive the story of St. Theodore who crushed the Water dragon and saved Venice.

So, if you are headed to Venice, mark this as the number one in your list of Things to do in Venice in a day. Trust me, visiting here is actually discovering the true history of Venice.

Pin This

How to get to Doge’s Palace in Venice?

The nearest airport is the Venice Marco Polo Airport, which the nearest train station is Venezia- Stazione Santa Lucia

From both these places, you need to take a Vaporetto or a water taxi to reach the main square – St. Mark’s Square. There are plenty of shuttles and water buses every few minutes from the station or airport to the square. One can avail of the same. 

The Doge’s Palace is located right on the main square. You can just get off here and head straight to the museum.

What is the best time to visit Doge’s Palace?

Doge’s Palace is open from 9 am to 6 pm everyday. The best time to visit would be when it just opens. The place is a little less crowded then. Keep aside at least 2 hours to see this place.

The Secret Itineraries Tour of Doge’s Palace has fixed timings. You should look up the official website of the Doge’s Palace to get the most recent information. The timings and the language of the tour are updated on this page.

How much does a tour of the Doge’s Palace cost?

There are numerous bundles that you can buy for your tour of the Doge’s Palace. The simplest tickets cost 25 Euros and include entrances to Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.

There are offers that include the St. Mark’s Basilica as well as combo offers with the Secret Itineraries tour of Doge’s Palace. You can book the same online through the official website. Alternately, you can try booking some of the innovative skip-the-line tours of Doge’s Palace through the links that I have included in the Booking resources.

Travel Tips:

  • Wear comfortable shoes as there is a lot of walking to be done- and that too, on slippery surfaces and narrow staircases. Light cotton clothes are good for the summer but for the winters, dress warm.
  • Be careful of pickpockets, especially when traveling in the Vaporetto.

Booking Resources

  • Get your Guide has lots of Venice tours including a guided tour of the Doge’s Palace along with St Mark’s Basilica. You can book the same online through this link.
  • I even like the sound and reviews of the Fast-Track Tour of Doge’s Palace offered by Klook.com. Besides this tour, they also, have airport transfers, skip-the-line tickets, walking and cycling tours in Venice and more. Check their offerings through this link
  • Booking.com has numerous options for your stay in Venice.
  • You can even use Tripadvisor for booking your Venice hotels and hostels 
  • Do consider supporting me with your purchases from Amazon by clicking through this link and getting to the mobile app or website. No extra charges for you, just a small commission for me 🙂
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
Share the Thrill of Travel

40 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.