Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Palazzo Ducale/Doges' Palace, Venice

The Doge's Palace (or Palazzo Ducale as it is known to the locals) was my next stop after viewing Venice from the Campanile (Bell Tower). Located right across the street, it is easy to get to and is one of the most popular sites in Venice.

After buying a ticket, you come out into the main courtyard of the palace.

First view of the interior

The courtyard features a grand exterior and the Giants' Staircase.

Arco Foscari

Giants' Staircase

The Giants' Staircase is where the new Venetian leader, called a "doge," would be crowned with the zogia or dogal cap. He'd be flanked by statues of Mars and Neptune, symbols of Venice's power. Over them is a winged lion, the symbol of the Evangelist Mark, patron of Venice. Jacopo Sansovino was the 15th century artist who designed the stairs.

Mars and Neptune with winged lion watching over them



Nearby were other symbols precious to Venice but not so prominantly displayed.

St. George and the vanquished dragon

Covered gondola

Upstairs is where all the government offices are located as well as the residence of the doge. After going up an unimpressive set of stairs, a short walk down the aisle leads to the Scala D'oro or Golden Staircase, also designed by Sansovino. The stairs are not the golden part; rather, the ceiling is ornately designed.

Not so impressive from the outside

Scala D'oro, looking up the stairs

View from the top of the top

The entrance to the stair is notable for several things. First is the nearby "lion's mouth" of which several are found throughout the palace. It was used to drop an accusation against someone. The other side of the "mouth" has a wooden box that would catch the slip of paper. One of the governing bodies would investigate the accusation and act on it. Different boxes were for different crimes and are found all over the palace, presumably so anonymous accusations could be made.

"Snitchbox" is what I called them

The second interesting feature is the statues of Hercules and Atlas flanking the bottom of the staircase.

Hercules Killing the Hydra by Tiziano Aspetti, 16th c.

Atlas Supporting the Heavenly Vault by Aspetti, 16th c.

Up the stairs and to the left are the apartments of the Doge. I managed to take three pictures before one of the museum people told me not to take photos inside. Here's my contraband!

A nice fireplace

Adoration of the Magi (with some bishop nosing in; I'd bet he's Venetian)

The ever popular Madonna and Child

There is also a long series of rooms where various governing bodies met. At different times there were councils of three, ten, and forty men who had various civic responsibilities. One of the most impressive rooms was a large chamber called the Sala del Maggior Consiglio where about two thousand men met as the Great Council. The back wall has a painting of Paradise by Tintoretto measuring 21 feet by 85 feet, one of the largest single paintings in the world. Also along the top border of the room, all of the doges are painted in chronological order. One of the doges, Marino Falier, is blacked out because he was beheaded for conspiracy against the State in 1355. I wish I could have taken a picture of that.

Another use of the Doges' Palace was as a prison. Both the attic and the cellars were used until a prison was built on the other side of a canal. A covered passage was built above the waters that became known as the Bridge of Sighs because the guilty being led across were so despondent about their fate. Of course, this is where I could take pictures again.

View out from the Bridge of Sighs

Walking down the Bridge of Sighs

The prison was pretty bleak, though some prisoners seemed to have gotten better treatment than others.

Basic cell--nor furnishing or windows

Basic cell door

Upscale cell with hardwood beds and a window!

Upscale door

By the time I got out of prison, I thought it would be best to head back to the hotel in case the children were up. The Doges' Palace is definitely worth a visit for its magnificent artwork and fascinating history.

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