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 place in Venice – The 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 curly haired wig, like the one below.
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.
Tour of the 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. While I call this the official entrance, the museum gates do not really open here anymore. There is another entrance 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 .
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.
Giant’s Staircase at Doge’s Palace
One of the most prominent features here is the Giants’ Staircase.
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. 🙂
Foscari arch at Doge’s Palace
Right opposite the Giant’s staircase, is an ornate Arch named after the Doge Foscari – the Foscari arch. This one is made of marble and 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.
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.
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. The staircase leads to the upper parts of the Palace where you can view the expansive meeting rooms and the Doge’s apartments.
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. 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.
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 🙂
The Doge’s apartments were apparently destroyed by fire but were rebuilt again. Each Doge carried their own personal belongings and kept them here. Though there isn’t much to see now, you can just have a peek into the rooms to see the lovely fire-places and the space.
The Bridge of Sighs at the Doge’s Palace
Unfortunately for me, time was out and I could not do the Secret Itineraries tour of this palace. 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. From here you can also, walk across the famous Bridge of Sighs into the new prison block across the 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.
The prisons in the main Doge’s palace also, has another interesting legend associated with it – the one of the famous flirt Casanova. It is said that none of the prisoners ever managed to escape from here except this guy, who managed to bribe, get his way out of the prison and later, brag about it. The Secret Itineraries tour captures all this and you can actually walk along these landmarks to experience and re-live these tales.
SIGH! Maybe next time for me . 🙂
Nonetheless, there is enough in the Doge’s palace for you to see – like this entrance to the Golden Staircase with Atlas on one side and Hercules on the other. Similarly, don’t miss, 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.
If you are a connoisseur of art, each statue and exhibit can really eat into your time, leaving you with the feeling that you haven’t seen it all as yet. And frankly, that is what happened to me. I feel that another trip to this lovely museum or Doge’sPalace is required for me to really be satisfied with #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.
Getting to Doge’s Palace:
- 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.
- Click here for the official website of the museum. You can not only avail good deals for the tickets but also, watch out for their special programs. The full price ticket costs 18 Euros but there are some discounts for families, kids and special people.
- Make sure you reserve your tickets for the Secret Itineraries in advance. You can opt for an English speaking Guide for the same. The price for the same is Euros 20.
- Try for a Museum pass that allows you access to some other museums and tourist attractions in Venice. The details for the same are available on the Website.
- Audio guides in English are available here.
- 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.