The Doge’s Palace of Venice (in Italian, Palazzo Ducale di Venezia) is one of the most stunning monuments in the city of Venice. Also known as the Ducal Palace, it’s considered a true masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture!
The Doge’s Palace of Venice was built in the 14th and 15th centuries to serve as the residence of the Doge – the leader and first magistrate of the ancient Republic of Venice. And in the 16th century, it continued to be renovated, receiving decorative elements typical of the Renaissance and Mannerism.
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- Brief History of the Doge’s Palace of Venice
- How to Get to the Doge’s Palace of Venice
- What to See at the Doge’s Palace of Venice
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Brief History of the Doge’s Palace of Venice
Although the construction of the modern Doge’s Palace of Venice building began in 1340 at the request of Bartolomeo Gradenigo (the 53rd Doge of Venice), its origins date back to the beginning of the 9th century – when the city became the capital of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia.
However, in the 14th century, the old palace required expansion and restructuring works and that was how the current south wing, facing the San Marco Basin (in Italian, Bacino di San Marco) appeared. It’s precisely in this section that you’ll find the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, the most important room in the entire monument!
In 1424, construction began on the side wing overlooking the Piazza di San Marco (or rather, Piazzetta di San Marco, as it’s an extension of the main square). At this time, Francesco Foscari (the 65th Doge of Venice) ordered the creation of the Porta della Carta and the Sala dello Scrutinio (the old library).
As a result of a fire in 1483, the other side wing of the Doge’s Palace of Venice was erected, and the works only ended in 1565. Facing the canal, this more recent structure houses many of the institutional rooms, the Doge‘s former apartments, the prisons, and the arsenal.
Did you know that the Doge’s Palace of Venice was part of Italy’s fourth set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 11th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Paris (France), between December 7th and 11th, 1987.
Only one other Italian site was announced in the session: the Piazza del Duomo, Pisa.
Nowadays, Italy is the country in the world with the most UNESCO sites: it has fifty-eight heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization!
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit five of them:
- Cinque Terre (1997)
- Historic Centre of Florence (1982)
- Historic Centre of Rome and the Properties of the Holy See (1980) – Castel Sant’Angelo, Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- The Porticoes of Bologna (2021)
- Venice and its Lagoon (1987)
How to Get to the Doge’s Palace of Venice
Getting to the Doge’s Palace couldn’t be easier, as the monument is located in the most touristic place in Venice: St. Mark’s Square! And here are also the other most visited (and photographed) historical buildings in the city, such as:
- Basilica di San Marco | St. Mark’s Basilica
- Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana | Martian National Library
- Caffè Florian | Florian Café
- Campanile di San Marco | St. Mark’s Campanile
- Gran Caffè Quadri | Quadri Grand Café
- Gran Caffè Lavena | Lavena Grand Café
- Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Venezia | National Archaeological Museum of Venice
- Museo Correr | Correr Museum
- Torre dell’Orologio | Clock Tower
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Doge’s Palace of Venice is open every day of the year, from 9 am to 6 pm, with the last entry being at 5 pm. As for the ticket, it’s called Musei Piazza San Marco and costs €26 (adults) or €14 (for children aged 6-14, students aged 15-25, and visitors over 65).
- Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Venezia | National Archaeological Museum of Venice
- Museo Correr | Correr Museum
- Sale Monumentali delle Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana | Monumental Rooms of the Martian National Library
- Ca’ Pesaro – Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna + Museo d’Arte Orientale | House Pesaro – International Gallery of Modern Art + Oriental Art Museum
- Ca’ Rezzonico – Museo del Settecento Veneziano | House Rezzonico – 18th Century Venice Museum
- Casa di Carlo Goldoni | House of Carlo Goldoni
- Museo del Merletto | Lace Museum (in Burano)
- Museo del Vetro | Glass Museum (in Murano)
- Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo e Centro Studi di Storia del Tessuto, del Costume e del Profumo | Museum of Palace Mocenigo and Study Center for the History of Textile, Costume, and Perfume
- Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia Giancarlo Ligabue | Natural History Museum of Venice Giancarlo Ligabue
- Palazzo Fortuny | Fortuny Palace
What to See at the Doge’s Palace of Venice
The Doge’s Palace of Venice has two facades – the quay and the square – made up of two galleries of arcades: a portico and a loggia complemented by a balustrade (on the ground floor and on the first floor, respectively). The second and last floor is dotted with large oval windows and a central balcony.
The exterior of the building is a complex work of art made of carved marble, one of the most characteristic stylistic expressions of Venetian Gothic. The sculptural work on both facades deserves special attention, from the statues on each corner to the column capitals!
Another element worth mentioning is the monument’s entrances. On the side of St. Mark’s Basin is the Porta del Frumento (or Grande Ingresso) – the access that visitors use to enter the Doge’s Palace of Venice. And on the side, next to St. Mark’s Basilica, stands the majestic Porta della Carta, a masterpiece in itself!
Cortile del Palazzo Ducale
Both the Porta del Frumento and the Porta della Carta link the exterior to the Cortile (or Courtyard). However, it’s the latter that gives direct access to the so-called Giant’s Staircase (in Italian, Scala dei Giganti) – named for the two colossal statues of Mars and Neptune, created by Jacopo Sansovino and that symbolizes the power of Venice both on land and at sea. The staircase is by Antonio Rizzo.
In this central space that unites the three wings of the Doge’s Palace of Venice and the side of St. Mark’s Basilica (the former Doge’s Chapel), it’s also possible to observe two cast bronze wellheads from the 16th century and the Arco Foscari, a triumphal arch dedicated to the Doge Francesco Foscari.
Interestingly, the Courtyard is surrounded by columned porticoes and logge, just like on the outside. And while the Piazzetta Wing (the side wing to the west) and the Molo Wing (the south wing, the oldest one) have brick walls, the Renaissance Wing (the side wing to the east, the newest) is covered in marble and has an extra floor!
The Sale Istituzionali (or Institutional Rooms) is a group of rooms in the Doge’s Palace of Venice where the political and judicial administration bodies of the Republic of Venice used to function. Occupying a large part of the three wings of the building, they have decorative elements appropriate to the function they represented.
Each of these rooms also sought to demonstrate the power of the republic, using the best construction materials available and hiring the most renowned artists: Guariento di Arpo, Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello, Giovanni Bellini, Alvise Vivarini, Vittore Carpaccio, Il Pordenone, Titian, Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Andrea Vicentino, Palma il Giovane, Antonio Vassilacchi, Sante Peranda, Pietro Liberi, and Pietro Bellotti, among others.
Therefore, during your visit to the Doge’s Palace of Venice, take the opportunity to admire each of the frescoes, paintings, and portraits that adorn the walls and ceilings of this chamber, as well as the sculptures and reliefs that complement them. You’ll find that they’re works of art worthy of the most important museums in the world!
First Floor of the Doge’s Palace of Venice
- Liàgo – the term is Venetian and refers to a type of terrace or balcony covered by glass windows. In the Doge’s Palace, it was a gallery used during breaks from meetings, which took place in the nearby Great Council Room
- Sala della Quarantia Civil Vecchia | Chamber of Quarantia Civil Vecchia – the Quarantia (or Council of Forty) was created in the late 12th century to serve as a sort of “Supreme Court” of the Republic of Venice. However, this institution was divided into three in the 15th century (Quarantia Civil Vecchia, Quarantia Civil Nuova, and Quarantia Criminal), the first of which focused on civil actions in Venice
- Sala del Guariento | Guariento Room – occupied by fragments of a fresco practically destroyed in a fire, this room owes its name to Guariento di Arpo, the author of the work. The fresco was originally conceived for the Chamber of the Great Council, but its discovery didn’t take place until the 20th century
- Sala del Maggior Consiglio | Chamber of the Great Council – at 53 meters long and 25 meters wide, it’s one of the largest rooms in Europe. As its name implies, it was here that the Maggior Consiglio, the main political body of the Republic of Venice, met. On the eastern wall, stands Tintoretto‘s “Il Paradiso”, one of the largest oil paintings in the world
- Sala dello Scrutinio | Chamber of the Scrutinio – as I mentioned earlier, it was the library of the Doge’s Palace, housing the republic’s precious manuscripts. But, from 1532 onwards, it was converted into a supporting room of the Chamber of the Great Council, namely for deliberations, counting of votes, and even for the election of future Doges
- Sala della Quarantia Criminal e Sala dei Cuoi | Chamber of Quarantia Criminal and Cuoi Room – after the division of the “Council of Forty”, the Quarantia Criminal began to deal with criminal sentences. The other room served as a filing cabinet and was lined with cabinets and shelves
- Sala del Magistrato alle Leggi | Chamber of the Magistrato alle Leggi – it housed an authority called the Magistratura dei Conservatori ed esecutori delle leggi and ordini degli uffici di San Marco and di Rialto. Founded in 1553, it was managed by three nobles of the city, whose mission was to enforce the law
Second Floor of the Doge’s Palace of Venice
- Atrio Quadrato | Square Atrium – waiting room and antechamber of other institutional rooms
- Sala delle Quattro Porte | Four Doors Room – it was also an antechamber but had a more formal appearance, as it connected some of the most important rooms in the Doge’s Palace
- Sala dell’Anticollegio | Antechamber of the College Chamber – this antechamber was the waiting room for foreign embassies and delegations, who came to Venice to discuss foreign affairs
- Sala del Collegio | College Chamber – the Collegio (or Pien Collegio) was responsible for coordinating the work of the Senate and delegating the foreign policy of the Republic of Venice, being divided into two independent bodies (the Savi and the Signoria). The Savi, in turn, was divided into three factions – the Savi del Consiglio (which dealt only with foreign policy), the Savi di Terraferma (which treated matters relating to territories outside the Lagoon of Venice), and the Savi agli Ordini (which took care of maritime issues). As for the Signoria, it was composed of members of the Quarantia and the Minor Consiglio (to which the Doge himself and councilors from the six districts of the republic belonged)
- Sala del Senato | Senate Chamber – the Senato‘s main functions were to supervise and oversee political and financial matters related to production, trade, and foreign policy
- Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci | Chamber of the Council of Ten – the Consiglio dei Dieci was created to judge conspirators after an incident that occurred in 1310. The ten members were elected by the Senate and the Great Council and met frequently with the Doge and his advisers
- Sala della Bussola | Compass Room – a room dedicated to the exercise of justice, owes its name to the large wooden compass in the center of the room. It also functioned as an antechamber and had direct access to the Armoury, as well as the institutional rooms on the lower floor, via the Scala dei Censori
Loggia Floor of the Doge’s Palace of Venice
- Sala dei Censori | Chamber of Censors – the Censors magistracy was created in 1517 to prevent electoral fraud and defend the public institutions of the Republic of Venice. The Censori were not properly judges, but rather “moral advisers” – a result of the humanist ideals that proliferated at that time
- Sala dell’Avogaria de Comun | Chamber of the State Advocacies – the origin of this judicial department dates back to the 12th century when Venice was still a commune. Consisting of three Avogadori, these ensured the correct application of the laws and protected the integrity of the city’s noble class (the Patricians), inspecting all records in the so-called Libro d’Oro della Nobiltà Italiana
- Sala dello Scrigno | Scrigno Room – in this room, there was a chest where not only the Libro d’Oro (or Golden Book) was kept, but also the Libro d’Argento (ie, the Silver Book). The latter registered the oldest families of Venetian origin and was similarly compiled by the Avogaria de Comun
- Sala della Milizia da Mar | Chamber of the Navy Captains – the last institutional room in the Doge’s Palace concerns the Navy of the Republic of Venice. From here followed orders to recruit crews for the war galleys
The Armoury of the Doge’s Palace of Venice looks like a small military museum! Composed of four rooms, its collection has been registered since the 14th century and was controlled by the Council of Ten.
With over 2000 pieces, this collection of weapons and ammunition includes swords, halberds, crossbows, quivers, and numerous firearms from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Among the pieces of greatest historical value are armors from the 15th and 16th centuries (including those of horses); examples of weapons, standards, and lanterns from Turkish ships (stolen from the enemy); a chastity belt; various types of instruments of torture, and even small weapons, which were prohibited by law!
Ponte dei Sospiri
The Bridge of Sighs was built in 1614 to connect the Doge’s Palace of Venice to the adjacent building destined for the Prigioni Nuove (ie New Prisons).
Enclosed and covered on all sides, it has two corridors separated by a wall. One of them led the defendants to the Sala del Magistrato alle Leggi and the Sala della Quarantia Criminal (on the first floor of the Doge’s Palace, or noble floor). The other linked the Prisons to the Salla dell’Avogaria de Comun and the Parlatorio, on the Loggia floor.
Now, the bridge got its “poetic” name in the Romantic period. Legend has it that the famous sighs came from the prisoners who, as they crossed these corridors towards their cells, looked at Venice for the last time!