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Inside Doge's Palace | Secrets, Splendor, and the Story of Venice

Anything deemed a palace is bound to be prestigious, massive, gorgeous, and Doge’s Palace is no exception. It’s not just a building but a journey through centuries of art, power, and intrigue. This guide will be your key to understanding the various halls and rooms inside, their original purpose, and what you’ll find there today. Prepare to be wowed by opulent apartments, marvel at artistic masterpieces, and maybe even creep through a famous bridge (don't worry, it's all in good fun!).

Understanding the layout of Doge’s Palace

The Doge's Palace isn't just a museum; it's a meticulously planned labyrinth reflecting Venetian history in its very structure. Let's unravel its layout and architectural highlights floor by floor:

Entrance & ground floor

The public entrance to Doge’s Palace is through the Porta del Frumento, via the colonnade under the 14th-century waterfront façade. This floor houses public services, the Museo dell’Opera with architectural fragments and sculptures, temporary exhibition spaces in the former kitchens, and the old prisons known as the "Pozzi."

Courtyard

Once a hub where important people gathered for celebrations or officials conducted business inside, look up to admire the architectural details before making your way up the grand staircase from the courtyard.

First and second floors

Accessible through the Loggia, these opulent chambers boast stunning lagoon views and masterpieces by Tintoretto and Titian. You'll also see the grand halls where the Doge and government officials once worked on the second floor.

Institutional chambers

Throughout the first and second floors, you can explore various government chambers. The Great Council Chamber on the first floor is particularly noteworthy, boasting immense size and breathtaking Tintoretto frescoes.

Armoury & prisons

Descend to the ground floor to witness Venice's impressive military might, used to protect the Republic throughout its history. Save the most intriguing for last! Explore the notorious prisons, including the cramped Pozzi Prisons and the scorching "Leads" under the roof. 

Exploring the Courtyard & Loggias inside Doge’s Palace

Upon entering the palace through the Porta del Frumento, the oldest side of the building, you are greeted by a stunning courtyard framed by the Piazzetta wing to the left and the Renaissance wing to the right. The north side is connected to St. Mark’s Basilica, historically the Doge’s chapel. At the center of the courtyard stand two mid-16th-century well-heads.

Giants' Staircase

Guarded by Roman gods Mars and Neptune, this grand staircase symbolizes Venetian power on land and sea.  Connected to the Porta della Carta by an ornate arch, it was once a ceremonial entrance to the Doge's Palace.

Senator’s Courtyard

Located to the right of the Giants’ Staircase, this area was where Senate members gathered before government meetings. The tour winds through the Renaissance wing, climbing from the Censors' Staircase to the Gold Staircase, reaching State Government offices above.

Notable Plaques

  • Plaque from 1362: This plaque features Gothic lettering from the papacy of Urban V, offering indulgences to those who gave alms to prisoners.
  • Plaque by Alessandro Vittoria: Located by the Giants’ Staircase, it commemorates the visit of French King Henri III to Venice in 1574.

The courtyards and loggias serve as both a functional entrance and a symbolic reflection of Venetian power.

Rooms and artworks inside the Museo dell’Opera

The Museo dell’Opera, located on the ground floor of the Doge's Palace, is a treasure trove of Venetian history and art, spanning six rooms. Over the centuries, the Doge’s Palace has undergone numerous restorations and the museum was established to preserve original sculptures and architectural elements removed during these renovations. Key rooms include: 

  • Room I: The first room houses 6 capitals from the 14th-century arcade on the lagoon-front, featuring historical characters, allegorical figures, and animals.
  • Room II: The second room contains 4 capitals from the 14th-century arcade on the Piazzetta side, with themes related to work, the products of the earth, and astrological correspondences.
  • Room III: This room has three special capitals, including a famous corner capital with the Creation of Adam, the Planets, and the Zodiac.
  • Room IV: Here you'll see 2 shafts of columns from the arcade and a massive wall from a previous version of the palace.
  • Room V: This room has more columns and carvings from the Palace's facade, including pieces from the intricate upper balcony area.
  • Room VI: This room is packed with 26 capitals from the Palace's loggias (fancy balconies). There are also other architectural pieces that were removed during restorations. Look out for the inscription by the architect who built the Porta della Carta entrance, and a doge's head that's all that remains of a larger statue group.

See the Doge's private apartments

Imagine living next door to a stunning basilica and having a private entrance straight off the canal! That was the life of the Doge, Venice's leader. After a fire in 1483, these apartments were rebuilt in a super cool Renaissance style, which you can still see today. 

These private quarters might seem grand, but they were actually on the smaller side compared to where the Doge might have lived before becoming leader. This was a subtle reminder that the Doge served Venice, not the other way around. The Doge even brought his own furniture from home! When a new Doge took office, the old furniture got swapped out. Key features include: 

  • Intricately carved wooden ceilings that reflect Renaissance craftsmanship.
  • Monumental marble chimneys are adorned with lavish and delicate carvings, highlighting the grandeur of the Doge’s residence.
  • The walls are decorated with elaborate painting friezes and stucco work, adding to the opulence of the apartments.

Touring the Institutional Chambers - Main organs of Venetian Republic

First floor

The Institutional Chambers of Doge's Palace were the heart of the Venetian Republic’s political and judicial administration. The first floor of these legendary chambers includes:

Square Atrium

Your tour begins here, where the political and judicial administration of the Venetian Republic operated. This system maintained social peace and harmony for centuries, despite lacking a written constitution.

Liagò

A "liagò" is a glass-enclosed terrace or balcony. This corridor served as a meeting place for Great Council members during breaks. It features a mid-16th-century painted and gilded beam ceiling and 17th-18th century wall paintings. Notable sculptures include Adam, Eve, and The Shield-Bearer by Antonio Rizzo.

Chamber of Quarantia Civil Vecchia

This room, restored in the 17th century, belonged to the Council of Forty, the highest appeal court in the Republic. Initially a single council, it later split into three for criminal and civil cases. The room retains a fresco fragment and 17th-century paintings.

Guariento Room

Connected to the Armory, this room houses a 1365 fresco by Guariento, rediscovered in 1903 under Tintoretto’s "Il Paradiso." The fresco depicts Paradise with an enthroned Virgin and Christ, surrounded by angels, saints, prophets, and martyrs.

Chamber of the Great Council

This grand chamber, one of Europe’s largest, hosted meetings of the Great Council, comprising male members of patrician families over 25. It also housed initial Doge elections. Post-1577 fire decorations include works by Veronese, Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto, and Palma il Giovane. Notable is Tintoretto’s "Il Paradiso."

Chamber of the Scrutinio

Originally meant for manuscripts, this room later hosted electoral deliberations. Decorated between 1578 and 1615, it features a rich ceiling by Cristoforo Sorte, military history episodes, and Doges' portraits. A triumphal arch honors Doge Francesco Morosini.

Chamber of the Quarantia Criminale & the Cuoi Room

This chamber housed the Quarantia Criminal, dealing with criminal cases. It features 17th-century wooden stalls. The adjacent room, used as an archive, was likely lined with shelves and cupboards.

Chamber of the Magistrato alle Leggi

This chamber, created in 1553, ensured legal practices were observed. It now displays Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych, left to the Republic by Cardinal Domenic Grimani in 1523, depicting themes of temptation, sin, and redemption.

Second floor

Square Atrium

This waiting area, decorated in the 16th century under Doge Girolamo Priùli, features Tintoretto's ceiling paintings of Justice and Peace, and scenes by his workshop. Mythological paintings were replaced by biblical scenes from Girolamo Bassano and Veronese. Here's where the Republic ran the government and courts, keeping things peaceful and harmonious for centuries – even without a written rulebook!

The Four Doors Room

Named for its ornate marble-framed doors, this antechamber features 16th-century decor by Antonio da Ponte and Andrea Palladio. Tintoretto's ceiling frescoes depict Venice’s history and virtues. Notable works include Titian's portrait of Doge Antonio Grimani and Tiepolo’s Venice receiving gifts from Neptune.

Antechamber to the Hall of the Full Council

Ambassadors waited here before meeting the Full Council. Restored after a 1574 fire, it features Veronese's fresco of Venice distributing honors, Tintoretto's mythological scenes, and Veronese’s The Rape of Europe.

Council Chamber

This room hosted the Full Council, which managed governance. Rebuilt by Palladio after a fire, it includes wood paneling and Veronese’s ceiling paintings celebrating Good Government and Venetian virtues, including the Battle of Lepanto and various Doges with religious figures.

Senate Chamber

The Senate met here to oversee political and financial affairs. Refurbished in the 1580s, it features Tintoretto’s Christ-centric works and paintings by Jacopo Palma il Giovane depicting Venetian history.

Chamber of the Council of Ten

Set up after a 1310 conspiracy, this powerful tribunal’s chamber has a ceiling by Ponchino with Veronese and Zelotti, showcasing justice-themed allegories. A central painting by Veronese, now a copy, depicts Jove punishing Vice.

The Compass Room

Named for its wooden compass with a statue of Justice, this room was an antechamber for those summoned by the Council of Ten. Decorated by Veronese in 1554 to highlight good government, it includes a large fireplace by Sansovino and connects to the Armory, New Prisons, and other judicial areas.

Loggia floor

The Chamber of Censors

Founded in 1517, the State Censors acted as moral consultants to prevent electoral fraud and protect public institutions. The room features portraits by Domenico Tintoretto and armorial bearings of past censors.

The Chamber of the State Advocacies

Dating back to the 12th century, the Avogadori ensured laws were applied correctly and maintained the integrity of the patrician class. The room is decorated with paintings of the Avogadori venerating religious figures.

The “Scrigno” Room

Venetian nobility was formalized in 1297, with further restrictions in the 16th century. This room housed the Golden and Silver Books, recording noble families, and features an 18th-century lacquered and gilded cupboard.

The Chamber of the Navy Captains

Home to the Milizia da Mar, responsible for recruiting crews for war galleys and the Provveditori all’Armar, who supplied the fleet. The chamber has 16th-century furnishings and 18th-century wall torches. The adjacent room, now a bookshop, was the Lower Chancellery of the Doge’s Palace.

The dark side of Doge’s Palace: The Armoury & the Prisons

These sections of the Doge’s Palace reveal a darker side of Venetian history, offering a fascinating glimpse into the Republic’s judicial and military might.

The Prisons
The Armoury

The Armoury of Doge's Palace wasn’t just a random weapons closet! It's a serious collection of historical weapons and armaments, including over 2,000 items dating back to the 14th century, displayed across four rooms. It was initially under the control of the Great Council and later managed by the Council of Ten, as indicated by the ‘CX’ initials on many items.

  • Room I: Known as the Gattamelata Room, it features a finely chased suit of armor belonging to Erasmo da Narni, nicknamed Il Gattamelata, along with other 16th-century suits of armor, swords, crossbows, and ship’s lamps seized from Turkish ships.
  • Room II: Highlights include a Turkish standard from the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, a suit of armor gifted by Henri IV of France, and armored horse headpieces.
  • Room III: Named after Venetian admiral Francesco Morosini, it contains numerous weapons inscribed with the letters CX, a finely decorated 16th-century culverin, and a 20-barrel harquebus, a precursor to the modern machine gun.
  • Room IV: This room boasts 16th and 17th-century firearms, a “devil’s chest” with hidden pistols, a poisoned arrow, instruments of torture, and small, easily concealed weapons that were banned.

Halls of Justice at Doge's Palace

The Doge's Palace in Venice served as the epicenter of Venetian justice, housing several crucial halls for judicial proceedings:

  • Hall of the Inquisitors: Established in 1539, this hall was dedicated to judging crimes against the Republic's security, political offenses, and slander. Tintoretto's artwork decorates the ceiling, symbolizing justice and the deliberations of the inquisitors.
  • Hall of the Three Chiefs: Here, the presidents of the Council of Ten oversaw trials, ensured the veracity of facts, and reported to the government. Giambattista Zelotti and Paolo Veronese adorned this hall with canvases depicting virtues prevailing over vices.
  • Hall of the Quarantia Civil Vecchia: As the highest appellate body, it handled civil cases within Venice, pivotal in legal and legislative matters.
  • Halls of the Quarantia Criminale and dei Cuoi: These halls addressed criminal appeals, operated by the Serenissima Signoria, with notable seventeenth-century decor.
  • Hall of the Magistrate of Laws: Administering St. Mark's and Rialto's legal matters, it hosted the College of Twenty Savi, arbitrating in minor disputes, and adorned with Flemish art.
  • Hall of the Censors: Oversight of public fairness, wages, and offenses, pivotal in maintaining civic order.
  • Hall of the Avogadori di Comun: Supervised communal property and countered deliberations of major councils, with powers akin to a legal watchdog.
  • Casket Hall: Housed the register of noble families ("Gold Book") and citizens ("Silver Book"), ensuring legitimacy in council entries and privileges.
  • Hall of the Provveditori alla Milizia da Mar: Managed naval affairs and enlisted sailors, crucial for Venice's maritime defense.
  • Lower Chancery Hall: Initially for notaries, now a bookshop, preserving legal documentation and historical records.
  • Hall of the Ducal Bull: Where the ducal seal was affixed, validating official practices and decrees.

These halls not only symbolize the complexity of Venetian justice but also reflect the Republic's commitment to legal order and governance.




How can I go inside Doge’s Palace?

Frequently asked questions about what's inside Doge's Palace

What is inside Doge's palace?

Doge's Palace is a palace complex in Venice, Italy that served as the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the Venetian Republic. The palace contains numerous grand halls, chambers, and rooms decorated with artwork, frescoes, and sculptures, as well as the famous Bridge of Sighs and prisons.

Can I visit the prisons of Doge's Palace?

Yes, you can explore the historic prisons within Doge's Palace. These include the infamous Pozzi (Wells) and the iconic Bridge of Sighs. The Bridge of Sighs earned its name from the sighs of prisoners as they crossed it, catching their last glimpse of Venice before incarceration.

Are there any famous artworks inside the palace?

Absolutely! Doge's Palace boasts an impressive collection of artworks. You can admire masterpieces like Titian's "Paradise" in the Great Council Chamber and Tintoretto's epic "Paradise" painting on the opposite wall. The palace is also adorned with exquisite frescoes, sculptures, and decorative elements that showcase the artistic prowess of the Venetian Republic.

Do I need a ticket to go inside Doge's Palace?

Yes, you need a ticket to go inside Doge's Palace. The ticket can be purchased at the entrance or online in advance. There are also different types of tickets available, such as standard admission, guided tours, and combined tickets with other nearby attractions. It's recommended to book in advance to avoid long queues and ensure availability, especially during peak tourist season.

Can I take a tour inside Doge's Palace?

Yes, you can take a guided tour of Doge's Palace. This is a great way to gain an in-depth understanding of the history, architecture, and cultural significance of the palace.

How much time should I allocate to explore Doge's Palace thoroughly?

To fully appreciate the richness of Doge's Palace, it's recommended to allocate around 2 to 3 hours for your visit. This allows you to explore the main halls, admire the art, and soak in the historical ambiance.

Are there any special exhibitions or events held inside Doge's Palace?

Doge's Palace occasionally hosts special exhibitions and cultural events, adding to the visitor experience. These exhibitions often showcase unique collections and provide a fresh perspective on the palace's history and art.

Can I take pictures inside Doge's Palace?

Yes, photography is generally allowed inside most areas of Doge's Palace. However, please be mindful of restrictions on the use of flash photography, especially in rooms with sensitive artworks.

Is there a dress code to enter the palace?

While there isn't a strict dress code, it's advisable to dress comfortably and respectfully when visiting this historical site. Avoid wearing swimwear, excessively revealing clothing, or clothing with offensive slogans.

Are there audio guides or informational materials available for visitors?

Yes, you can often find audio guides and informational materials available for rent or purchase. These resources provide valuable insights into the palace's history, architecture, and the significance of its collections.

Can I access the rooftop or enjoy panoramic views from Doge's Palace?

Unfortunately, access to the rooftop or panoramic views from the palace may be limited. However, you can enjoy stunning views of Venice and the lagoon from the Bridge of Sighs, which is a highlight of the visit.

Is going inside Doge's Palace worth it?

Yes. Visiting Doge's Palace is worth it as Doge's Palace is known for its state-of-art architecture, interior, history, and panoramic views. 

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