Venice was a Republic for centuries before the system was adopted elsewhere apart from the Roman period, of course. But even then aspects of nobility in government were present. The Doge’s Palace was one such. It was home to the Doge, and was also used to house administrative offices, along with several prisons.
First constructed in the 9th century about 100 years after the beginning of the Republic, the Palazzo Ducale gained its present form between 1340 and 1420. The result was not just a boring government building, but a magnificent work of architecture that also houses some of the world’s finest art.
The palace is located at one end of the Piazza San Marco and forms part of that impressive area in the heart of Venice. Despite fires, earthquakes, damage from Napoleon’s war machine and much more, it stands today as one of the premier symbols of this amazing city.
Its high walls of white limestone and pink marble provide background for the many colors laid on in the decorations. The carefully crafted loggias, the crenellated roof and the magnificent balconies all define late-Gothic Venetian architecture. There are 36 capitals on the lower colonnade that are festooned with carvings. The animals and flowers represent some of the finest stone work in Europe. There are sculptures depicting Adam and Eve, Noah, the Archangel Gabriel and many other religious figures.
Enter the palazzo through a door beside the Lagoon and you’ll be treated to an impressive courtyard. The mixture of styles is characteristic of Venice, a blend of East and West thanks to its rich trading history. Here you’ll find Renaissance facades at the eastern side across from the Gothic on the south and west. The staircase at one end from 1600 represents High Renaissance.
Ascend and enjoy large statues of Neptune and Mars on your way to the first floor loggia. Look around and gaze upon paintings by some of the period’s best artists, including Titian and Bellini.
Visit the Museo dell’Opera and view the Scala d’Oro (Golden Staircase) leading to a series of rooms built in the 16th century. Look up to see numerous stuccos by Vittorio. Enter the Sala del Maggior Consiglio and look out over the Bridge of Sighs that connects the palace to the now-disused prisons.
Further down the hall one can find the Doge’s private quarters. Through the other side is the Anticollegio containing masterpieces by Tintoretto. In the Sala del Collegio are more works by this master in a room designed by the famed architect Palladio. The Sala delle Quattro holds Titian’s portrait of Doge Grimani. The Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci houses several Veronese.
Then exit the palace and stand in the center of the square to admire the whole. The lower section of columns gives an unusually light effect, since it supports the more solid-looking upper floors. This ‘reverse’ wouldn’t become common in architecture for hundreds of years. It shows once again that Venice was centuries ahead of others in many ways.