This pink-marble waterfront edifice in Piazza San Marco dates back to the 14th century, when it was the residence and seat of government for the doges (rulers) of Venice. Today the ornate Byzantine- and Moorish-influenced Gothic Palazzo Ducale is a symbol of the city, and serves as a museum hosting some of Venice’s most important art, including the famous Bacchus, Venus, and Ariadne masterpiece by Tintoretto. It also runs the popular Secret Itinerary and Doge’s Palace Hidden Treasures tours. After you’re done, treat yourself to a glass of wine in the small on-site bistro, with windows looking onto the Grand Canal adjacent to the Bridge of Sighs.
By Becca Blond, AFAR Local Expert
A must-see in Venice is the Doge's Palace in Piazza San Marco. The palace dates from the 14th century, and was the residence of the Doges of Venice. On view is the splendor of high Venetian style—Byzantine and Moorish architectural influences, gilded detailing, lush fabrics, rich colors, glistening marble floors, and allegorical paintings and portraits. Highlights include the Doges apartments, the old prison, and the Bridge of Sighs.
By Charissa Fay, AFAR Ambassador
The Venetian Empire didn't have an Emperor, it had a Doge. And his home was the pink marble perfection of the Palazzo Ducale, which was also where all the official doings of the Venetian Republic were carried out. Some of Venice's most important art is housed in this museum and fabulous repository of history; don't miss the famous Bacchus, Venus and Ariadne masterwork by Tintoretto. Take a tour (the Secret Itinerary tour is a good option) and then have a glass of wine in the Palazzo's small bistro by the Grand Canal. The windows look out onto the gondolas plying their way past the Bridge of Sighs.
By Gretchen Kelly, AFAR Local Expert
Architectural Feast in Venice
Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque elements compete for the eye’s attention in the courtyard of the Doge’s Palace, which dates to the 14th century. You can appreciate the palace’s architecture from the lagoon and the Piazza San Marco, but visit the interior for the best introduction to the city’s history. The rooms are decorated with frescoes and marble carvings—all representations of mercantile wealth under the Doge, the Venetian republic’s supreme authority though the 1790s. The museum, council chambers, and prisons lend insight into historic Venice’s unique style of government. San Marco 1, 39/041-27-15911. This appeared in the March/April 2013 issue.
Palazzo Ducale & the meaning behind this popular image
So many travellers take this very picture without ever knowing what the function, symbolism and importance may have been. This particular plaque depicts a hideous woman with her mouth gaping open. Within the hole of her mouth the Venetians were encouraged to write notes about those who may be breaking social rules within the city. For example, if a woman was wearing extravagant jewels another woman could act as a spy. Despite the extravagance of the city excess was not always valued. The witness would then write down the time, place, who and what she saw then place the note within the hole to be read by authorities. (as explained to me by Art Historian Professor Bronwen Wilson in 2010)
By Murissa Shalapata, AFAR Local Expert
The Paper Gate of the Palazzo Ducale
The Porta della Carta, or Paper Gate, along with the entire Palazzo Ducale, is an example of Venetian Gothic architecture. The gate links the Basilica di San Marco, with the Palazzo Ducale demonstrating the important working relationship between church and state. The Paper Gate is also adorned with the winged lion—in this case it is San Marco and Venice in one—holding an open book, which represents the sovereignty of the state. The Doge kneeling before it is Doge Francesco Foscari, who reigned between 1423-1457, during a costly war with Milan—a city vying for regional supremacy with Venice in Northern Italy at that time. The Doge was not a king, but more like a president, who ruled in service to the Venetian people, state, and church. The fact that the Doge is kneeling shows that he is a humble man, equal to all those in God’s kingdom, rather than being equal to God in the style of the absolutist monarchs of France. Along with allegorical figures, saints, and cherubs is San Marco at the top of the gate, within the shell-like inset. This gate once again represents the connection between church and state. Unfortunately, what you see today of this gate is a copy of the original, which was destroyed in 1797, when Napoleon conquered Venice.
By Murissa Shalapata, AFAR Local Expert
The Doge's Palace Under Water
The first time I saw Venice it was November, time of mists and floods when the water rises and infiltrates St. Mark's square, as if it can't stand not to be rotting the foundations of the Doge's Palace with its murky fingers for one moment longer. We were there for three days and each day the water rose higher until eventually they put up a rough scaffolding of wooden tables lashed together on which you could walk without having to wade through three feet of canal dredge. It was superb. Everything, including the seriously ornate Doge's Palace, was reflected in the water, which made it seem like Venice was composed of two distinct worlds, one of light and air, the other of darkness and water. We drank cups of the thickest, sweetest hot chocolate I've ever tasted to keep out the damp and listened to the old whispers, maybe those of Casanova as he planned his escape from the dungeon of that place, whispers behind and above everything, that never seem to be fully absent from this place.
By Anne McGlynn
Piazza San Marco, 1, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
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