In the service of La Serenissima: Doge’s Palace

Built in the fourteenth century, the palace is a wonderful mix of Gothic and Classical, East meets West, in a marriage of styles that came to define the architecture of Venice.

History Facts

Where: Venice, Northern Italy
When: 14th century
History: Impressive seat of ruling and residence for the Duke of Venice – the state’s elected head until 1797
Go there for: Its stunning architecture and Tintoretto’s Paradise -the largest oil painting in the world


Who was the Doge of Venice?

Venice needed a strong government, so the people imposed a system like no other. The Doge, or Duke of Venice, ruled the city for over a 1,000 years and while other great European leaders hid themselves away in Medieval fortresses, the Venetians were busy building a symbol of confidence to show the world that they were impregnable to attack. The Doge would enter the palace, walking between the statues of Neptune and Mars, and stand at the top of the stairs by the God of the Sea and God of the War. Today, lesser mortals have to use the tradesman’s entrance to the right of the palace, which is still lined with gold!

The Doge was elected for life but he could not indulge in private business, receive foreign ambassadors alone, leave Venice without permission, accept personal gifts and his descendents could not inherit anything. The aim was to stop the power falling into the hands of one dynasty. The Doge’s private life was entirely at the service of La Serenissima (the state) and everywhere you look this is depicted in the artwork around the palace. Venice is depicted as a beautiful woman and in painting after painting she appears with Christ himself. In one painting, the Doge is deified in a picture with the Madonna, foretelling what Venice will become – proud and arrogant.

History of Doge’s Palace

The Doge’s Palace is a bona fide ornate palace where the real aristocrats of Venice lived in splendour and co-ordinated the conquest of an empire. Built in the fourteenth century, the palace is a wonderful mix of Gothic and Classical, East meets West, in a marriage of styles that came to define the architecture of Venice.

Doge’s Palace witnessed denunciations, elections, executions, intrigue, and inquisitions. It was the equivalent of London’s Downing Street, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London all rolled into one. From here the Venetian aristocracy co-ordinated the conquest of an empire, held out against a European coalition, confronted the Pope, made war against the Turks, legislated, administrated justice, survived through a combination of shrewdness and wisdom and finally, in May 1797, abdicated.

Things to see and do in Doges Palace

Bocca di Leone

In the fourteenth century the Council of Ten was formed, an extensive network of spies whose job it was to track down any subversives in the Republic. The Bocca di Leone – a box in the shape of a lion’s mouth – was where you could come and secretly denounce your friends and neighbours.

Grand Chamber Council

This is the largest room in the palace. It had to big as by 1512 an estimated 2,622 noblemen were entitled to sit on the Maggior Consiglio. Like the Vatican’s famous balcony in Rome, it was from this room that the newly elected Doge would be presented to the throngs in the Piazzetta square below. On the giant eastern wall you will see Tintoretto’s Paradise -the largest oil painting in the world (22 metres by seven metres). It is a vision of paradise that the Venetian government could match the divine order.

Bridge of Sighs

This bridge, linking the palace’s east side to the Prigioni Nuove (New Prisons), earned its name from the sighs of the prisoners being led to their fate – torture, a lengthy incarceration or even execution according to the perhaps somewhat romanticised memoirs of one of the prison’s former inhabitants – Casanova.


Short online tour of the palace’s main rooms

Palazzo Ducale
San Marco 1,
30124 Venice
Entrance for the public: Porta del Frumento, Piazzetta San Marco
Telephone: 0039 0412715911
Fax: 0039 0415285028


By Nicole Dudley

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