Palazzo Ducale Venice

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The magnificent Palazzo Ducale is the dominant building on the banks of the Grand Canal, not far from St. Mark’s Basilica. The 14th-century building perfectly combines elements of Byzantine architecture and European Gothic architecture, making it a unique example of “Venetian Gothic”. The residence of the rulers of the Republic of Venice is definitely worth a visit from the inside. Richly decorated with gold interiors and huge frescoes will not leave indifferent even a person who usually is not interested in architecture.

History

The decision to move the residence of the Doges of Venice to St. Mark’s Square was made as early as 810. Nothing remains of the first building, as it was destroyed by fire in the 10th century. Another building was built here between 1172 and 1178. Of this building also little has remained, but some elements of Byzantine-Venetian architecture of the time can still be seen on the first floor of the palace. In 1340-1344 the palace was extensively rebuilt. In 1424 the palace was extended, but in 1483 there was a big fire, and the building was damaged. It had to be rebuilt anew, this time in the Renaissance style. However, the building was destroyed by fire again, this time in 1547. Immediately after the fire, further reconstruction of the palace began. Another fire occurred during the restoration of the building in 1577. At that time, it was decided to stick to the original Gothic style, even though several artists advocated Renaissance design.

The second half of the 16th century was marked by destruction: in 1574 and 1577 the palace suffered major fires that virtually destroyed the building. Plans were even drawn up for the complete demolition and construction of a new palace in the late Renaissance style. However, it was much cheaper to reconstruct the existing palace, so this Gothic palace was preserved for future generations. 

The best place to start a tour of the Palazzo Ducale is the small Ponte del Paglia, from which you can look at the much more famous Ponte dei Sospiri, or Bridge of Sighs, built in 1600. The bridge got its special name from the sighs of the condemned men who were led across it from the palace to the city prison. The famous Venetian prison, connected to the Doge’s Palace by this bridge, was made famous by the Italian writer and adventurer Giacomo Giovanni di Casanova (1725-1798), who was a famous seducer of local women. 

Palazzo Ducale
Palazzo Ducale Venice

Construction

Palazzo Ducale or Doge’s Palace is the largest secular building in Venice, Italy. For nearly a thousand years it was the seat of the Venetian Doges, the secret police force, and the main court of justice. It even housed a prison, a torture chamber, and many other city institutions. Today Palazzo Ducale is considered one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the world.

Located in St. Mark’s Square, Palazzo Ducale is one of the most famous buildings in Venice. It is an imposing symbol of Venetian power, measuring 75 meters on the west side and 71.5 meters on the south side. A fortress was originally built on this site in 814, but it burned down in 976 and 1106. Construction of the present building began in 1314, along with a large hall for the Marrior Consiglio, the lower house of the Parliament of the Republic. The palace was completed in 1419, but it was not until three years later that the remains of the old fortress were finally removed. Only then could the main facade, decorated with two rows of loggias, be completed. The palace itself is decorated with white, gray and red marble.

Among the most beautiful rooms of the palace are the Sala del Senato and the Sala del Consiglio dei Diechi, where the Council of Ten, the judges and the guards of the Venetian secret police met. The adjoining room is the Sala de Bussola, which houses the Lion’s Mouth. It was a sort of mailbox into which the citizens of the city could drop charges against their fellow Venetians. Through the back door you enter a small courtroom, a torture chamber, and a prison.  The other four halls are occupied by the armory. After your tour, visit the huge hall dominated by the largest oil painting in the world. It is Tintoretto’s Paradise, painted by the artist in 1592. During the tour, visitors will also be able to see the old prison and the depressing hunger cell in which the lover Casanova was imprisoned in the 18th century.

Scarlatti Hall

A room that was once used as an antechamber for the ducal advisors. The carved ceiling, probably designed and made by Biagio and Pietro da Faenza, on which the coat of arms of Andrea Gritti (doge from 1523 to 1538) stands out, remains of the old furnishings. The mantel, characterized by its beautiful ornamentation with horns, acanthus leaves, volutes and putti heads, is a work of the very beginning of the 16th century from the workshop of Antonio and Tullio Lombardo. The promontory depicts the coat of arms of the Barbarigo family (Doge from 1485 to 1501). The marble relief above the entrance door, depicting Leonardo Loredana (Doge from 1501 to 1521) in a devotional pose, can also be attributed to the Lombardo area.

Shield Hall

The name of the room comes from the custom of displaying the coat of arms (shield) of the ruling Doge, who gave audiences and received guests here. The insignia on display belonged to Ludovico Manino, the last Doge of the Republic before it fell in 1797. The large decoration with maps depicts the possessions of the Republic or distant regions explored by the Venetians. The original version of the maps covering the two main walls dates back to the 16th century. In 1762 they were reworked by the cartographer and polygrapher Francesco Grisellini, who commissioned by the Doge Marco Foscarini added other paintings describing the voyages of the most famous Venetian explorers: Nicolo and Antonio Zen, who reached Greenland; Pietro Querini, who was shipwrecked in the Norwegian fjords; Alvise da Mosto, discoverer of the Cape Verde Islands. The two large rotating globes in the center of the room, representing the celestial sphere and the surface of the Earth, respectively, also date to the same period.

Palazzo Ducale Venice Interior

Grimani Room

The carved ceiling of this room dates back to the Doge Barbarigo (1485/1501), but the coat of arms, inscribed in the center at the end of the 16th century, belongs to the Grimani family, from which the room got its name and which gave the Republic three Doges. Noteworthy is the fireplace, which can be attributed to the Lombardo workshop. It is decorated with the Barbarigo coat of arms and has an elegant ornamental band with the lion of Saint Mark surrounded by gods and sea figures, while the stucco above the nappa dates back to the reign of Doge Pasquale Cicogna (1585-1595). The frieze under the ceiling, made at the end of the 16th century during the reign of Doge Marino Grimani, depicts allegorical figures and various personifications, including Venice and the Evangelist Mark with the lion.

Erizzo Hall

The room is named after Francesco Erizzo, Doge from 1631 to 1646. As in the other rooms, the carved gilded ceiling on a blue background and the Lombard fireplace are from the late 15th century. The coat of arms of Erizzo between the Venus and the Vulcan, towering above the hood, is of a later date. Along the walls, a frieze with putti and military symbols recalls the exploits of Doge Erizzo, who rose to the top of the state above all thanks to his military merit.

Plasterer’s Room

The moldings on the barrel vault, decorated with lunettes, date from Doge Marino Grimani (1595-1605), and the coat of arms decorating the fireplace, above which are allegorical figures, are by Doge Antonio Priuli (1617-1623). Another Grimani, Pietro (1741-1752), commissioned the stucco decorations on the walls and also made the frames for the paintings displayed here since, illustrating various episodes from the life of Christ, and a portrait of King Henry III of France, probably by Jacopo Tintoretto, whom Venice gave a spectacular reception in 1574 on his journey from Poland to France to inherit the throne left by his brother Charles IX. 

Philosophers Hall

The room takes its name from the twelve images of ancient philosophers that were placed here in the eighteenth century, later replaced by allegories and portraits of the Doge. If you stand with your back to the Hall of the Shield, on the wall on the left you can see a small door leading to an internal staircase that allowed the Doge to get quickly from his apartments to the rooms on the upper floor, where the Senate and the Collegium met.

Storage room

This room was probably used for private events, it is one of the few without a fireplace or other original decorations. In the seventeenth century the Doge’s apartments were enlarged, opening from the Sala degli Stucci a long hanging corridor connecting it (demolished in the nineteenth century) with the nearby Canonica di San Marco (now the palace of the Patriarch of Venice). Here we find a large banquet hall and a number of rooms for the Doge, his family and servants.

Auditorium

This room may have been identified as one of three designated in this part of the palace for audiences. Noteworthy are the Carrara marble fireplace decorated with carvings of winged putti on dolphins and a marching lion in the center, and the carved wooden frieze under the ceiling, dating from the late fifteenth century. The stories and testimonies presented here accompany us into the last centuries of the Republic.

Anti-Auditorium Hall

The specific purpose of this room is also unclear, and it has changed its purpose several times. A magnificent fireplace has been preserved as one of the original furnishings.

Squire Hall

It was originally a room from which the Doge’s apartments could be accessed. It housed his squires, appointed for life directly by the Doge, eight of whom had to be at his disposal at all times. The room lacks original decoration and its greatest value are the two monumental portals (late fifteenth century) that lead to the Hall of the Shield and the Golden Staircase.

Doge’s Palace today

In 1923, the Italian state became the owner of the building. Since then, the city of Venice has operated it as a museum. In 1996, the palace became part of the network of Venice museums. This gives tourists the opportunity to see the interior of this beautiful building.

Location

The Doge’s Palace is located in St. Mark’s Square, where most of the sights of this beautiful city are located. Right next to this unique Doge’s residence is St. Mark’s Basilica, opposite is the bell tower of St. Mark, and next to it is Palazzo delle Priggioni (a prison during the Venetian Republic), connected by the Bridge of Sighs. Even worse, between the bell tower of St. Mark and the Doge’s Palace you will see two columns with St. Theodore and the Lion.

San Marco, 1
30124 Venezia VE 
Italy