Venice – the civic museums (Palazzo Ducale)

In my previous three posts about Venice, I talked about the churches belonging to the Chorus Association and from this post onwards, I’m going to introduce to you 8 of the 11 museums in the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia (MUVE). If you have read my previous posts about Venice, please click here to jump directly to the main content of this one, which is about the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), probably the most popular attraction and landmark of this city. If not, the following paragraphs will be about an explanation of the outstanding universal value of Venice in terms of its history, city planning, architecture and art, some practical tips concerning the ideal length of your stay, the proper season of your visit and what you should note while eating in the restaurants and an introduction to the public transport system as well as the entrance prices and opening hours of some of the major attractions such as the churches belonging to the Chorus Association and the museums of the MUVE. Now, let’s get to know Venice, a precious gem on the Adriatic sea.

As the UNESCO comments:

Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.


威尼斯及其泻湖: 威尼斯始建于5世纪,由118个小岛构成,10世纪时成为当时最主要的海上力量。整个威尼斯城就是一幅非凡的建筑杰作,即便是城中最不起眼的建筑也可能是出自诸如焦尔焦内(Giorgione)、提香(Titian)、丁托列托(Tintoretto)、韦罗内塞(Veronese)等世界大师之手。

1. Venice and its outstanding universal value

When’s the first time you heard about Venice and how? Well, I guess the first time I heard about Venice was in my English literature class when I was introduced to William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice“. Or maybe it was in my history class when I learnt that Marco Polo departed from here in search of China, Annam (nowadays Vietnam), Tonkin, Sumatra (an island in Indonesia), India and Persia. His voyage reminds us of the role that the Venetian merchants played in the discovery of the world, though after the Arabs, around 200 years before the Portuguese. In fact, it’s also possible that I heard about Venice even earlier, in my Chinese literature class when I was appreciating the essay “Venice” written by Zhu Ziqing, a renowned Chinese poet and essayist.

威尼斯(Venice)是一个别致地方。出了火车站,你立刻便会觉得;这里没有汽车,要到那儿,不是搭小火轮,便是雇“刚朵拉”(Gondola)。大运河穿过威尼斯像反写的S;这就是大街。另有小河道四百十八条,这些就是小胡同。轮船像公共汽车,在大街上走;“刚朵拉”是一种摇橹的小船,威尼斯所特有,它那儿都去。威尼斯并非没有桥;三百七十八座,有的是。只要不怕转弯抹角,那儿都走得到,用不着下河去。可是轮船中人还是很多,“刚朵拉”的买卖也似乎并不坏。 威尼斯是“海中的城”,在意大利半岛的东北角上,是一群小岛,外面一道沙堤隔开亚得利亚海。在圣马克方场的钟楼上看,团花簇锦似的东一块西一块在绿波里荡漾着。远处是水天相接,一片茫茫。这里没有什么煤烟,天空干干净净;在温和的日光中,一切都像透明的。中国人到此,仿佛在江南的水乡;夏初从欧洲北部来的,在这儿还可看见清清楚楚的春天的背影。海水那么绿,那么酽,会带你到梦中去。

Zhu studied at Peking University (always one of the 2 top universities in China), and during the May Fourth Movement became one of several pioneers of modernism in China during the 1920s. Zhu was a prolific writer of both prose and poetry, but is best known for essays like “Retreating Figure” (背影), “You. Me.” (你我) and the long poem “Destruction” (毁灭). This time, before leaving for Venice, I told my parents that I was going there and my dad said, “Oh, Venice, the city that Zhu Ziqing visited and wrote about. Don’t forget to take the gondola and check whether they are the same as he described or not. Maybe they have changed now?” The text above is part of what Zhu wrote and I’ll try to translate it by myself here. I hope and will try my best to keep the “original taste” of it.

Venice is a unique place. Once leaving the train station, you will immediately realize that there are no cars here. Wherever you wanna go, you can to take either a steam ship or a gondola. The Grand Canal goes through Venice like the letter “S” and it is the “main street” of the city. What’s more, there are 480 small canals and rios and they play the same role as the small alleys (hutong) in Beijing. The steam ships are like buses in other cities, “driving” passengers hither and thither. Gondola is similar to a rowed boat and it’s unique here in Venice. Wherever you wanna go, it can take you there. There are no bridges? Of course there are and there are 378! That’s a lot and enough because after turning around and around, you can basically reach everywhere without touching the sea water. Nevertheless, still quite a lot of people choose to take ships and it seems that gondola is also a rather popular option among them. Composed of many small islands and located at the northeast corner of the Italian peninsula, Venice is called the “city in the sea”. Seen from the top of San Marco Campanile, the islands are like floral clusters floating on the Adriatic sea. In warm sunlight and with almost no smoke, my sight goes through the seemingly transparent whole until it reaches the horizon where the sea meet the sky. As a Chinese, Venice reminds me of the water towns in southern China. After my trip to northern Europe in early summer, I can still find spring here, retreating yet clear. The water, so green and so “strong”, flows into your dreams.

The essay is much longer and I hope you can grasp a general idea or feeling of it from my translation. I’m happy that writing about Venice gives me the opportunity to read Zhu’s work again. I think the last time I read the “Venice” by him was somewhat more than 10 years ago and I have forgotten almost all of it except the “gondola”. A city floating on the sea? Doesn’t it only exist in fairytales or the magical world? As Zhu mentioned in his essay, I was born and grew up in southern China and I know Suzhou (Soochow) is called the “Oriental Venice” because of its rivers and bridges. I lived in this city for four years and I’ve always dreamt of seeing the real Venice. Eventually, the opportunity has come.

In this lagoon covering 50,000 square kilometers, nature and history have been closely connected since the 5th century when the Venetian ancestors came to the sandy islands of Torcello, Jesolo and Malamocco. As time went by, temporary settlements turned to be permanent and the fisherman and peasants became a maritime power. With its expansion over the centuries, Venice never ceased to consolidate its position in the lagoon. What is it that made the UNESCO decide to protect the whole city and its lagoon? What kind of historical, cultural and educational values does Venice possess? Based on what I read from the UNESCO World Heritage website, I’ll try to answer these question from three main aspects, that is to say, the city planning (protection), the monuments (architecture) and the art (painters and paintings).

1.1 Urban setting

Before seeing it, it’s rather difficult to imagine a city built on the sea. We sometimes say though a sparrow is small, it has all the organs that it needs. From Torcello to the north to Chioggia to the south, the islands here in this lagoon are similar to the sparrows, small yet highly functional. Made up of these islands and located at the heart of Veneto, Venice “stood as one of the greatest capitals” in the Middle Ages. In this distinctive city, street means canal, alley means rio, bus means ship and pedestrian crossing means bridge. This unique landscape resulted from a long and sophisticated process which reflects the interaction between people and the natural environment and it is this interaction that demonstrates people’s high technical and creative skills in the “realization of the hydraulic and architectural works” in this area. Although Venice presents a complete typology of medieval architecture, what makes it more special and valuable is that these buildings were constructed according to certain urban setting which had to adapt to the special conditions of the site.

Was it an easy task to organize the islands in such an urban system? It was not and it is not an easy task to keep the system or to update it nowadays either. Venice was and still is vulnerable due to various reasons. One of them is the irreversible natural and climate changes. We human beings can change a lot of things but one of the few things that we can never take control of is nature. Though very difficult, negotiating with nature and protecting their home is a task that the Venetians never forget or give up. When you are in the city, you will see ingenious devices and designs that have been applied to the streets and buildings (palazzos, churches and so on) for this specific purpose. As part of the coherent ecosystem, the muddy shelves, the small islands, the pile dwellings, the fishing villages, the rice fields and so on (which can be easily neglected) all need the same level of attention and protection. Shouldn’t we remember the crystallization of wisdom of these people who were, are and will be coping with nature to preserve this glorious gem of the sea?

1.2 Architecture and monumental arts

The second aspect showing Venice’s outstanding universal value is its influence on the development of monumental arts. I was writing about Palladio and his works in and around Vicenza some time ago and I mentioned some of his original designs in Venice. Honestly, for me, visiting Venice is like visiting the historic centers of Rome and Paris in the aspect that almost every building has its own history and is worth knowing about. This is the reason why the UNESCO emphasizes that “the lagoon of Venice has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces in the world”. From the palazzos to the squares (piazza and campi), from the bridges to the streets (calli), from the churches to the Scuole hospitals and chartable and cooperative institutions, one who sees Venice sees the complete catalogue of medieval architecture and even more.

While we are talking about the city’s history and buildings, how can we miss its significant role as the capital (810–1797) of the Republic of Venice? For almost a millennium, Venice was the major witness to the ups and downs of this powerful sovereign state and nowadays, its architectural ensembles make it possible for us to see the magnificence of the Republic’s Golden Age. What’s more, internationally, the monuments built based on the Venetian models “first through the Serenissima’s fondachi or trading stations, along the Dalmatian coast, in Asia Minor and in Egypt, in the islands of the Ionian Sea, the Peloponnesus, Crete, and Cyprus” are strong evidence of the width and strength of this Republic’s influence on architecture.

1.3 Paintings and decorative arts

When the Republic of Venice started to lose its power over the sea, it exerted its influence in a rather different manner. I personally am a great fan of Italian paintings and besides the Manneristic Renaissance painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, the ones belonging to the Venetian school are always among my favorites. From the later part of the 15th century, Venice had a distinctive, flourishing and influential art scene. Beginning with the work of Giorgione and the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, major artists of the Venetian school included Titian (Tiziano Vecelli), Tintoretto (also known as Jacopo Robusti in his youth), Paolo Veronese (also known as Paolo Caliari) and Jacopo Bassano (also known as Jacopo dal Ponte). Together with Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, their revolutionary and ingenious masterpieces illustrating a brand-new perception of space, light and color left a decisive mark on the development of painting and decorative arts in the whole of Europe.

I remember that in the museums in other cities, once I saw paintings of these masters that I mentioned above, I would definitely take a close look at them. Nevertheless, in Venice, I only chose to take a look at the most famous ones or the ones that I like the most. Why? Because there are so many! I assure you that in no other city of the world can you see such a complete collection of works created by these great painters. These marvelous masterpieces are scatted all over Venice in the churches, houses, palazzos and of course in the museums and art galleries. For example, in the Church of San Zaccaria, you can see Giovanni Bellini’s “San Zaccaria Altarpiece”; in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, you can see Titian’s “The Assumption of the Virgin”; in the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, you can see Tintoretto’s “Last Supper”; in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, you can see Paolo Veronese’s “The Feast in the House of Levi” and “Mystical Marriage of St Catherine”Titian’s “Presentation of the Virgin” and many more. Trust me, if you are a fan of any of those masters in the Venetian school, you will certainly feel Venice is the paradise of art. Just a reminder, as a city built on 118 small islands floating on the Adriatic Sea, the beauty of Venice also inspired numerous landscape painters such as Canaletto, Guardi, Turner and so on.

2. General tips for visiting Venice

Having elaborated on the outstanding universal value of Venice, now, by answering four questions, I’d like to give you a general introduction to the city accompanied by some suggestions or tips based on my own experiences. The first question that I guess many people, who have never been to Venice, have in their mind is: “What are the must-visit attractions in this wonderful city?” Well, I guess anyone who knows Italy knows Venice and anyone who knows Venice knows St. Mark’s Square. It is the principal public square of Venice and is generally known just as la Piazza (“the Square”). Together with the Piazzetta (“little Square”), an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon in its south east corner, it forms the social, religious and political centre of Venice. In fact, All the other urban spaces in the city (except the Piazzale Roma) are called campi (“fields”). Dominated by the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint MarkProcuratie Nuove, Napoleonic Wing, Procuratie Vecchie, the Campanile of St Mark’s churchBiblioteca Marciana, and Doge’s Palace, these two spaces are worth the name “the drawing room of Europe” (a comment which is said to have been left by Napoleon).

Take your time but remember, don’t spend all your time here. Otherwise, you will miss a big part of Venice. I somehow feel that visiting Venice is like going through a general body examination. It’s of vital importance to check the heart (visit the St. Mark’s Square) but without checking other parts, this examination just doesn’t make much sense. All in all, I’d really like to remind you that Venice is much more than just St. Mark’s Square. Visiting the bridges (such as Ponte dell’Accademia and the Rialto Bridge), the churches (such as the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and the Basilica of Saint Mary of Health), the houses or palaces (such as Ca’ Rezzonico and Ca’ Pesaro), the islands (such as Murano and Burano), the museums (such as the Lace Musem and the Glass Museum), the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Grand Canal and so on will help you gain a much more detailed and comprehensive understanding of Venice.

“How long should we stay in Venice?” Well, this is a very difficult question because depending on how much you wanna see and how much you wanna learn, the length could vary from three days to a month or even longer. If you wanna have a good understanding of the city, I would say you need to spend at least a week here. “What’s the best time to visit Venice?” I visited Venice in November and at the beginning I was a bit disappointed because my friends told me the weather in the summer is much better. Nevertheless, when they told me they waited for one, two or even more hours to enter the churches and museums, I was so glad and realized that I chose the right time. In totally, I visited 18 churches and 9 museums and I didn’t spend any time waiting for entering them. Though in the winter, almost all the museums close earlier than in the summer, I’m still happy that I can use the time standing in the lines to have a nice dinner and enjoy the view of Venice at night. Briefly, if possible, I still recommend you visiting Venice in the low season to avoid large crowds.

“Is it safe to travel in Venice?” According to my experience, I would say my own trip was rather smooth and successful. I wouldn’t say there’s anything life-threatening that you need to be reminded of. Nevertheless, do keep an eye on your personal belongings because similar to any other big or famous touristy cities, thieves are inevitable. What’s more, don’t fall for their tricks when someone offers you free stuff or asks you to sign something. Just remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Besides,there are two more things that I’d like to share with you concerning having lunch and dinner in the restaurants. Firstly, please note that cover fee and service fee are two different charges so when you go to a restaurant where they say they don’t charge compulsory service fee, don’t be surprised when the cover fee appears on your bill, and vice versa. Honestly, as for the cover fee, I think its reasonable to charge it and as long as they provide ok service, I prefer that the restaurants just charge the service fee directly so I don’t need to calculate and think about how much tip I should leave. The thing I hate the most is that sometimes they say one thing while doing another (For example, some guy standing in front of the restaurant inviting customers in said that the restaurant wouldn’t charge service fee or whatsoever. Nevertheless, by the end, both fees appeared on the bill and I saw some customers complaining to him and he seemed to suggest that he would talk with the manager and give their cover and service fees back. Of course 99% of the people would say “Ah, it’s just a few euros, never mind,” and that’s how he does his “business”.) I don’t mind paying a few more euros but if you lie to me, I won’t allow myself to be tricked like a fool and pretend nothing has happened. The second thing is that when you make your order, make sure you see your dish and the price on the menu. For example, in one restaurant, the waitress asked my friend and me, “do you want some garlic bread”? and I said “sure, why not.” but when I got the “garlic bread” they turned out to be tomato buchetta. I bet that if I questioned her she would say “oh, sorry I can’t speak English well or oh sorry, isn’t buchetta garlic bread?” What else could I say? Fortunately, nowadays on Google Map you can check reviews of the restaurants and I strongly recommend you doing so before entering them. How I regret I didn’t do it because later on I checked the reviews of that particular restaurant and there had been so many similar cases much worse then mine. Can you imagine how you would feel if you and your family enter a restaurant planning to have a simple dinner for around 60 euros and end up paying 200 instead? I sincerely hope that the local authorities could deal with these kinds of restaurants which are obviously trying to “rip tourists off”. We tourists need to respect Venice and on the other hand, Venice (relevant administrations) also needs to respect its visitors. Only in this way can we achieve a harmonious relationship between the city and the people.

3. Brief info about public transport and major attractions (that I visited)

As I mentioned above, during my this trip to Venice, I visited 16 churches belonging to the Chorus Association, a conservation organisation aiming at safeguarding, conserving and restoring the artistic, historical and cultural heritage contained within the 18 Venetian churches that presently constitute its membership (Church of Santa Maria del Giglio, Church of Santo Stefano, Church of Santa Maria Formosa, Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario, Church of San Polo, Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Church of San Giacomo dall’Orio, Church of San Stae, Church of Sant’Alvise, Basilica of San Pietro di Castello, Church of the Santissimo Redentore, Church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati), Church of San Sebastiano, Church of San Giobbe, Church of San Giuseppe di Castello, Church of San Vidal and Church of San Giacomo di Rialto), 8 museums belonging to the Venice Civic Museum Foundation (Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia) (Doge’s Palace, Museo Correr, Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ Pesaro, Glass Museum in Murano, Natural History Museum, Mocenigo Palace, Fortuny Palace, Lace Museum in Burano, Carlo Goldoni’s house and Clock Tower (visits only upon prior booking)) as well as the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore as well as the Gallerie dell’Accademia.

If you want to visit both the churches and the civic museums I recommend you buying the City Pass from VeneziaUnica which costs 29.9 euros for people from 6 to 29 years old (39.9 euros for people from 30+) and gives free admission to: Doge’s Palace and all 10 Civic Museums of Venice, 16 churches of the Chorus Circuit (another 2 are free), the Querini Stampalia Foundation and the Jewish Museum. Please click here to check more offers provided by VeneziaUnica such as St. Mark’s City Pass (free access to Doge’s Palace and the Corror museum on St. Mark’s square + 3 churches in the Chorus circuit of your choice), St. Mark’s City Pass + tour of the Teatro La Fenice with audioguide, City Pass + lagoon tour, City Pass + public transport and so on.

If you only wanna visit the churches of the Chorus Association, I suggest you buy the Chorus Pass which costs only 12 euros for an adult (please note that entrance to each church in this circuit costs 3 euros already). For more information about the reduced-price Pass, Family Pass, free tickets, opening hours of the churches and so on, please click here.

If you only wanna visit the civic museums, you can buy the “Museum Pass” which grants entrance to most of them except Palazzo Fortuny and the Clock Tower. The full price is 24 euros. Depending on which and how many museums in this foundation you want to visit, either buying the tickets separately or buying the “Museum Pass” can be cheaper. However, if you plan to visit more than four museums in this circle, it’s for sure a better deal to just buy the Pass. Please click here and click the PDF file “Civic Museums of Venice – short version” to check both the full and reduced entrance prices for each of the museums and click here to know more about the different types of the “Museum Pass” (such as family pass, child pass, senior pass etc).

As for public transport, water bus (ship) is the main means. According to my experience, it’s fun exploring the main island both on foot and by boat because the former means gives you the opportunity to be closer to the narrow streets and authentic residential blocks while the latter makes your journey much easier and more convenient because there are so many lines and stops. Nevertheless, if you want to visit the Church of the Santissimo Redentore, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the Lace Museum on Burano Island, the Glass Museum on Murano Island and so on and have a cruise on the magnificent Grand Canal, you have to take the water bus. Depending on how many days you will spend in Venice and where you want to go, you can buy one-way ticket (7.5 €), 1-day ticket (20 €), 2-day ticket (30 €), 3-day ticket (40 €), 7-day ticket (60€), water bus tickets with Marco Polo Airport transfer and so on. For more informations about group tickets and some special offers please click here and click “Public Transport”.

4. Museums of the MUVE

There are in total 11 museums belonging to the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, which manages and develops the cultural and artistic heritage of Venice and the islands. I am satisfied that I visited 8 of them but I wish I had more time to know better about them. The 11 museums are:

  1. Doge’s Palace (formerly the residence of the Doge of Venice and the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice, now a museum)
  2. Museo Correr (the imperial rooms, the Canova collection, the art and history of Venice). Included in the combined itinerary are the National Archaeological Museum of Venice and the Monumental Rooms of Biblioteca Marciana
  3. Clock Tower (visit the terrace on the roof and learn about the clock mechanism. Please note that visits are only allowed with prior booking)
  4. Ca’ Rezzonico (museum of the 18th century Venice)
  5. Palazzo Mocenigo Museum (museum of textiles and costumes with the new itinerary dedicated to perfume)
  6. Carlo Goldoni’s House (not only Carlo Goldoni’s residence but also a museum exhibiting collections of his life and works)
  7. Ca’ Pesaro (International Gallery of Modern Art)
  8. Palazzo Fortuny (Mariano Fortuny’s own photography, stage-design, textile-design and painting atelier)
  9. Glass Museum (on the island of Murano)
  10. Lace Museum (formerly seat of the Burano Lace School on the island of Burano)
  11. Natural History Museum

The museums that I didn’t visit in this foundation are the Clock Tower, because I didn’t book a tour in advance; the Palazzo Fortuny, because it was closed and will be open again from the 24th March 2018 and the Natural History Museum because I didn’t have enough time and I’m not particularly interested in this kind of museums. In this and the next four posts, I’m gonna write about all the ones I visited, briefly introducing to you the opening hours, ticket prices and the floor plans of them (some of the museums are so big that you might easily get lost in them) and of course focusing on their historical, cultural and artistic values. I hope when you go to Venice and visit them you will have a successful and meanigful trip. Now let’s start with Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace, one of the most popular attractions and main landmarks in the city.

5. Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)

5.1 Practical information

5.1.1 Opening hours

  • 1st November – 31st March: 8:30 – 17:30
  • 1st April – 31st October: 8:30 – 19:00
  • Closed on: 25th December and 1st January

Please note that the ticket office closes one hour before the official closing time of the museum and the opening time shown on Google Map could be inaccurate.

5.1.2 Ticket prices

It seems that there’s no single ticket just for entering the Doge’s Palace. Instead you can buy St. Mark’s Square Museums Ticket which is valid for the Doge’s Palace and the combined itinerary of Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.

  • Full price: 20 euros
  • Reduced price: 13 euros (children from 6 to 14, students from 15 to 25, citizens over 65 and so on)

If you wanna know more about the reduced price, free entrance, family offer, school offer, secret itineraries tour and so on please click here.

As I mentioned in the third chapter, if you plan to visit more than 4 civic museums, please consider buying the “Museum Pass” and if you plan to visit the civic museums as well as the churches of the Chorus Association, please consider buying the “City Pass” from VeneziaUnica.

5.1.3 Floor plan

The whole palace can be divided into three wings, one facing the Piazzetta of St Mark, one facing the lagoon (Venice Basin) and one facing the Canonica Canal. During my visit, all four levels were accessible but the Doge’s apartment and the Chamber of the Scrutionio were occupied by temporary exhibitions. On the ground floor, you can visit the courtyard and the Museo dell’Opera. On the Mezzanine, you can visit the institutional rooms and cross the Bridge of Sighs to visit the new prison. On the first floor, you can visit the institutional rooms and Doge’s apartment. On the second floor, you can visit the armory and some more institutional rooms. Please note the third floor and part of the second floor are reserved for the “Secret Itinerary” which must be booked in advance. Already lost? Don’t worry, I personally think this museum is rather well-oriented and the best way to explore it is to follow the designed route shown on the info boards. They are almost everywhere reminding you to stay on the right track. When I was there, the route started neither on the Mezzanine nor from room No.1, but I finished my visit without skipping any available rooms. Again, follow the suggested itinerary closely and don’t just go through the rooms floor by floor randomly. You wouldn’t want to miss some of the highlights here.

If you prefer making adequate preparations before your trip (like I do), I suggest you take a look at the official website of this museum and scroll down to download a PDF file called “The Doge’s Palace – short version” which provides information about this palace’s history, architectural features, rooms, collections, and the plan of each floor. My following introduction is actually going to be based on this document as well as the information I gathered from the info boards on site. Now, let’s started with the history of the palace.

5.2 History

The Doge’s Palace is undoubtedly a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and as we always say that Rome wasn’t built in a day, the palace was also constructed and reconstructed during different periods of time. Its foundations date back to the 14th and 15th centuries and different layers of architectural elements and ornamentation were added during the Renaissance time. The entire complex is made up of three wings with the one facing the lagoon being the oldest, rebuilt from 1340 onwards. The wing facing the Piazzetta was built in its current form from 1424 onwards and the one facing the canal was built between 1483 and 1565, housing the Doge’s apartment and many institutional rooms. Now let’s take a closer look at the palace’s constructing history.

The first stable settlements came to the lagoon probably just after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and at the beginning of the 9th century, Venice achieved a reasonable level of independence. In 810, Doge Angelo Partecipazio moved the seat of the government from the island of Malamocco to the present-day Rialto area and that’s the moment when the first Palazzo Ducale was decided to be built. Nevertheless, nothing of this palace remains. Between the 10th and 11th centuries, the Palazzo Ducale appeared to be a castle protected by thick walls, a canal and huge corner towers. Within these walls was a complex of different buildings housing public offices, courtrooms, prison, the doge’s apartment, stables, armories and so on. During the 12th century and under the reign of Doge Sebastiano Ziani, the layout of the entire St. mark’s square was dramatically altered. This reformer built two new buildings for his palace, one facing the lagoon which was used to house government institutions and one facing the Piazzatte, which was used to house courts and legal institutions. A bit better than the palace of the 9th century, which had totally disappeared, the 12th-century one has some traces left which can still be seen nowadays. For example, parts of the ground-level wall in Istrian stone and some herringbone-pattern brick pavement.

The following three major building phases made the palace as we see nowadays and created a masterpiece without parallel in the history of art. In the middle of the 14th century, due to some political changes in 1297 which resulted in a significant rise in the number of people who had the right to attend the legislative assembly meetings, an extension to the original palace was required. Under the reign of Doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo, the works done resulted in the building that we see nowadays and in particular the wing facing the lagoon. In 1365, Guariento was commissioned to fresco the east wall of the Great Council Chamber (I’ll talk about this large fresco when we visit the first floor) and the window works were done by the Delle Masegne family. The Great Council met in this chamber for the first time in 1419. In the 15th century, especially under the reign of Doge Francesco Foscari, renovation works were done on the wing facing the Piazzatte of St Mark and it was remodeled as a continuation of the wing facing the lagoon. As we can see nowadays, the ground-floor arcade and the open first-floor balconies, which run through both the façade facing the Piazzatte as well as the one facing the inner courtyard, were designed and built at this time span. Inside, the huge Sala dello Scrutinio, formerly a library, was built on the same floor as the Great Council Chamber. Please note that after finishing your visit in this museum, you will exit through the famous Porta della Carta, which served as the ceremonial entrance to the building and was also finished during this building phase (in 1442) by Giovanni Bon and Bartolomeo Bon. In 1483, a big fire broke out in the canal wing of the palace which housed the doge’s apartment. After this accident, an entirely new structure (the canal wing that we see nowadays) was erected along the canal from Ponte della Canonica to Ponte della Paglia. Adding Renaissance architectural features to this whole complex, it was designed by Antonio Rizzo. In 1510, Rizzo was replaced by Maestro Pietro Lombardo who reviewed the decoration of the façade and of the Giants’ Staircase in the courtyard. In 1515, Antonio Abbondi known as ] Scarpagnino took over the project from Lombardo and finally complete the works by 1559. In 1565, the erection of Sansovino‘s two large marble statues of Mars and Neptune on top of the Giants’ Stairs marked the end of this important construction phase.

In the next 3 centuries, no major works were done to the overall structure of the three wings but only modifications and restorations. For example, the big fire in 1574 destroyed some of the rooms on the second floor and actions were immediately taken to replace the wooden furnishings and decorations of these rooms. In 1577, another big fire damaged the Sala dello Scrutinio and the Great Council Chamber, destroying many masterpieces by Pisanello, Alvise Vivarini, Carpaccio, Bellini, Pordenone, Titian and so on, but again, by 1580, these two rooms were restored (with new decorations). Do you know the famous bridge, the Bridge of Sighs? Do you know that you can actually walk through it from the inside? Do you know where it leads to? Well, the name sounds a bit sad and pitiful, don’t you think? Where does the name come from? In fact, the Doge’s Palace used to house not only the Doge’s apartment, the city’s courtrooms, the seat of the government but also a jail. It was not until the second half of the 16th century that a new prison was ordered to be constructed and it is connected to the palace by the Bridge of Sighs (we will talk more about it later). The transfer of the prison made the old space on the ground floor of the palace free. Therefore, at the beginning of the 17th century, works began to restructure the courtyard. The changes that are particularly visible nowadays include the colonnade of the canal-wing, which was made similar to the Renaissance façade and the façade located next to the Foscari Arch, decorated with blind arches and topped by a clock, a design by Bartolomeo Manopola.

The Doge’s Palace had always been the heart of the political life and public administration of the Republic of Venice. However, after the fall of it in 1797, the role of the palace dramatically changed. Venice was first under the rule of the French Empire and then of the Austrian Empire and in 1866, it became part of the united Italy. During the time, the palace was occupied by various administrative offices as well as some important cultural institutions. At the end of the 19th century, the Italian government allocated a significant amount of fund for an extensive restoration of the building because it showed signs of decomposition. From then on, the 14-th century capitals were replaced and they now form the collection of the Museo dell’Opera. All public offices were also moved somewhere else except the State Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments, which we now know as the Superintendence of the Environmental and Architectural Heritage of Venice and its Lagoon. In 1923, the City Council was appointed to manage it as a public museum and in 1996 it because part of the Civic Museums of Venice Foundation. Now, please let me guide you through the itinerary that I followed and introduce to you some of my favorite stops (rooms, courtyard, Museo dell’Opera and so on).

5.3 The Courtyard

I was so happy that I visited the palace in the low season and no one was in the line when I entered. The entrance is called Porta del Frumento and is located in the oldest wing of the whole complex, the lagoon-wing. Once you are in the courtyard, on your left hand side is the Piazzatte-wing, on you right hand side is the canal-wing and right in front of you is the joint between the palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, which used to be the Doge’s chapel. There are several things in the courtyard that I found interesting. For example, the Giants’ Staircase with two huge statues of Mars and Neptune by Sansovino, representing Venice’s power over land and sea; the arch dedicated to Doge Francesco Foscari made of Istrian stone and Verona marble, connecting the Giants’s Staircase with the Porta della Carta (the exit); the Senators’ Courtyard, the space located to the right of the Giants’ Staircase where members of the Senate gathered before government meetings; the Renaissance façade, the arcade, the well heads, etc. Now please follow me through the Censor’s Staircase and the Golden Staircase and start our tour of various State Government offices from the second floor.

5.4 The Golden Staircase

This staircase is called the “Golden Staircase” mainly because of its lavish decoration in white stucco and 24-carat gold. Commissioned to the architect Jacopo Sansovino in 1555 by Doge Andrea Gritti, the work was finished in 1559 by the architect Scarpignano. It used to be the ceremonial staircase to the Doge’s apartment and to the chambers where main bodies of the state government met. Several highlights that you should pay attention to are the two marble sculptures at the entrance, which depict “Atlas bearing up the Vault of the Heavens” on the right and “Hercules Slaying the Hydra” on the left. As I learnt from the info board:

“the first ramp of the staircase is dedicated to Venus – an allusion to Venice’s conquest of the island of Cyprus, birthplace of the goddess. The stairs then fork into two ramps. The one on the right leads towards the doge’s apartment and is decorated with motifs referring to Neptune, and thus to Venice’s mastery over the seas.”

5.5 The Four Doors Room

This room was the formal antechamber to the more important rooms in this palace. As emphasized in its name, I recommend you taking a close look at its four doors. Each of them is framed with precious eastern marbles and topped with a sculptural group referring to the virtues that people who take the government responsibilities should always bear in their mind. The 1574 fire and another one right after damaged the room but fortunately the general structure survived. The present furnishing and decoration plan is a work by Antonio da Ponte and a design by Andrea Palladio and Antonio Rusconi. The coffered ceiling is another highlight in this room with stucco decorations by Giovanni Cambi (known as Bombarda) and frescoes (from 1578 onwards) (as you can see in the first picture above) by Jacopo Tintoretto showing a close link between “Venice’s foundation, its independence and the historical mission of the Venetian aristocracy”. On the walls, you can see Titian‘s famous “Portrait of Doge Antonio Grimani Kneeling Before Faith” (as you can see in the second picture above) and Tiepolo‘s famous work showing Venice receiving gifts of the sea from Neptune, painted from 1756 to 1758.

5.6 Antechamber to the Hall of the Full Council

This was the formal antechamber where foreign ambassadors waited to be received by the Full Council, which was delegated by the Senate to deal with foreign affairs. Restored after the 1574 fire, this room represents a similar decorative scheme to the one of the Four Doors Room. The central fresco on the ceiling was painted by Paolo Veronese showing Venice distributing honors and rewards (as you can see in the picture above). Another painting by the same artist here is the “Rape of Europe”. While you are in this room, do take a look at the fine frieze on top of the walls, the fireplace between the windows and in particular the doorway leading to the Hall of the Full Council. Some other works of art you might be interested in here are the four canvases painted by Jacopo Tintoretto depicting allegories of the Republic’s government. Originally created for the Square Atrium, they were brought here close to the doorways in 1716 to replace the leather wall paneling.

5.7 The Council Chamber

In order to have a better understanding of this chamber, we need to take a look at how the Full Council was organized. The Full Council can be divided into two branches, that is to say, the Savi and the Signoria. The former can be further divided into another three bodies, the Savi del Consiglio, which mainly dealt with foreign policy, the Savi di Terraferma, which dealt with matters linked with Venice’s empire in mainland Italy and the Savi agli Ordini, which dealt with maritime issues. The Signoria was made up of three heads from the Council of Forty and members of the Minor Council, constituting the doge and his six councilors, one for each district into which the city of Venice was divided. As I read from the official website of the MUVE,

The Full Council was mainly responsible for organizing and coordinating the work of the Senate, reading dispatches from ambassadors and city governors, receiving foreign delegations and promoting other political and legislative activity. Alongside these shared functions, each body had their own particular mandates, which made this body a sort of “guiding intelligence” behind the work of the Senate, especially in foreign affairs.

Having learnt about the function of the council, let’s take a look at the decor which is probably more related to our visit. The general plan was designed by Andrea Palladio after the 1574 fire and the carved ceiling together with the wood paneling of the walls and of the end tribune are the works by Francesco Bello and Andrea da Faenza. The most notable decoration in this room is undoubtedly the paintings of different sizes and shapes set on the ceiling, masterpieces by Paolo Veronese, who painted them between 1575 and 1578. The main theme depicted here is the “Good Government of the Republic together with the Faith it rests on and the Virtues that guide and strengthen it”. As you can see in the first picture above, in the direction from the entrance to the tribune, the first rectangular panel shows St. Mark’s campanile behind Mars and Neptune, gods of War and Sea. The central round panels shows “The Triumph of Faith” and the last rectangular one closest to the tribune shows “Venice with Justice and Peace”. Around the three main panels are four L-shaped and four T-shaped ones which demonstrate virtues of the government. The large painting behind the tribune under the ceiling is also a work by Veronese, created to celebrate the “Christian fleet’s victory over the Turks, at the Battle of Lepanto on the 7th October 1571, a victory that Venice made a vital contribution to”. The other paintings in this room are by Tintoretto and they are mainly portraits of various doges with Virgin Mary, Christ or the saints.

5.8 The Senate Chamber

The Venetian Senate was formally called the Consiglio dei Pregadi (Council of the Invited) and this hall was also called the Sala dei Pregadi. Why? Because the doge used to ask members of the Senate to take part in the meetings held here.

The Senate which met in this chamber was one of the oldest public institutions in Venice. It had first been founded in the 13th century and then gradually evolved over time. By the 16th century it was the body mainly responsible for overseeing political and financial affairs in such areas as manufacturing industries, trade and foreign policy. In effect, it was a more limited sub-committee of the Great Council, and its members were generally drawn from the wealthiest Venetian families.

Like the other rooms I mentioned above, damaged in the 1574 fire, this hall went through restoration work in the 1580s. Once the ceiling was restored, pictorial decoration began. Finished by 1595, the paintings in this room include masterpieces by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, Tintoretto, Giandomenico Tiepolo and Marco Vecellio. An interesting feature of Tintoretto’s works in this room is the predominance of Christ. This is probably a reference to the Senate “conclave” which “elected the doge, who was then seen as being under the protection of the Son of God”. Four of the paintings here by Jacopo Palma il Giovane are linked with certain events in the Venetian history.

5.9 The Chamber of the Council of Ten

The Council of Ten was set up after a conspiracy in 1310, when Bajamonte Tiepolo and other noblemen form the Senate tried to overthrow the state government. Originally set up to be only a provisional body, it became one of the examples of many Venetian institutions which were intended to be temporary but turned out to be permanent. The assembly was composed of ten members elected by the Great Council from the Senate and together they sat with the doge and his six counsellors, which account for the 17 seats in front of the chamber instead of ten. In fact, I was a bit confused when I first entered because I was wondering why were there 17 seats if the council was called the Council of Ten? It turns out that the doge and his counsellors were also involved. As described on the official website,

its authority covered all sectors of public life and this power gave rise to the fame of the Council as a ruthless, all-seeing tribunal at the service of the ruling oligarchy, a court whose sentences were handed down rapidly after hearings held in secret.

The ceiling (as you can see in the first and second pictures above) is the work of Giambattista Ponchino with assistance of the young Veronese and Giambattista Zelotti. Carved and gilded, it is divided into 25 compartments decorated with paintings of divinities and allegories, indicating the council’s power of punishing the guilty and freeing the innocent. From the painting with an old oriental figure to the one showing Juno scattering gifts on Venice are the works of Veronese. However, the oval one in the centre depicting “Jove (Jupiter) descending from the clouds to hurl thunderbolts at Vice” is a replica because Napoleon took the original one to the Louvre.

5.10 The Compass Room

This was the first room on this floor dedicated to the administration of justice and its name came from the large wooden compass surmounted by a statue of Justice. In the past, it served as an antechamber for those who were summoned by the powerful magistrates. The decor dates back to the 16th century and the ceiling was decorated by Veronese aiming at glorifying the good government of the Republic of Venice. Again the central piece, depicting St. Mark descending to crown the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity) was taken by Napoleon to the Louvre and replaced by a replica. By the way, I learnt about an interesting fact about the palace that “all the rooms served in the exercise of justice were linked vertically.”

5.11 The Armory

The rooms of the armory are also located on the second floor so before going downstairs, you should remember to visit them. In the 14th century, the armory was under control of the Council of Ten and was stocked with weapons which would be readily available for the palace’s guards. Nowadays, in the four rooms you can take a look at the valuable historical weapons and armaments from several sources including famous examples of the 15th- and 16th-centruy suits of armor, swords, halberds, quivers and crossbows. They usually bear the monogram of CX, representing the Council of Ten, and again prove the power that the council possessed. In the first room, take a look at the the 16th-century suits of armor and in particular pay attention to the miniature one which was found in the battlefield at Marignano in 1515, possibly used by a child or a dwarf. In the second room, the Turkish triangular standard was taken back from the famous Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and a suit of armor was donated to the Republic by Henri IV of France in 1604. In the third room, I suggest you take a look at the bust of Francesco Morosini in a niche at the end of the room, the supreme commander of the Venetian fleet in the Great Turkish War and the Doge of Venice from 1688 to 1694. As I read from the official website, “Morosini’s military victories were so magnificent that he was the only person in the entire history of the Venetian Republic to be honoured with a public monument whilst still alive“. In the fourth room, you will see an extraordinary collection of 16th- and 17th-century firearms including the lethal “devil’s chest”. What’s more, here you can also find instruments of torture and some forbidden weapons because they are so small that can be hidden under people’s clothes. Now please follow me downstairs and continue our visit of the institutional rooms.

5.12 The Guariento Room

This room got its name from the fresco it houses which was originally painted for the Hall of the Great Council by the Paduan artist Guariento in around 1365. The terrible 1577 fire destroyed almost all of it and the remains were only discovered in 1903 under the large canvas “Il Paradiso” by Tintoretto. The heat of the fire destroyed the colors of the fresco and made the surviving fragments like monochromes. In the places where the plaster has fallen, we can see the red traces of the preliminary drawing. I guess nowadays the glory and splendor of the original masterpiece with bright colors and gilding only exist in our imagination. As described on the official website, the fresco:

depicts Paradise. In the center there is an enthroned Virgin being crowned by Christ, while, to far left and right, are aediculae like those from a portico church façade, under which one can see the figures of the Annunciation: the Angel Gabriel on the left, and the Virgin Mary on the right. Angels playing musical instruments surround the central figures and the Evangelists are shown before the throne; saints, prophets and martyrs are depicted alongside in individual stalls with gothic tracery.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised to find Vittore Carpaccio’s “The Lion of St. Mark” in this room. As I read from the official website, this painting should be kept in the Doge’s Aapartments. Anyway, I emphasize it here not only because it is one of the few late works by this artist with great use of color and power of expression but also because it was painted, symbolizing the power of the Venetian Republic on land and sea, right after the Serenissima had run the risk of losing its independence when it was attacked by the League of Cambrai, the coalition of great powers formed in 1509. If you wanna know more about this painting, please read the brief introduction on the Web Gallery of Art.

Before entering the biggest chamber in the entire palace, I’d like to talk a bit more about the competition for the commission to paint “Il Paradiso”. As I mentioned a lot of times above, in December 1577, a terrible fire broke out and destroyed almost all the painted decorations in the Sala dello Scrutinio and the Great Council Chamber. The rooms were soon under restoration and new decorations were needed. For this reason, a public competition was organized for the commission of the painting on the east wall of the Chamber of the Great Council. The theme was decided to be the same as Guariento’s work, “Il Paradiso” but this time, it should be a painting on canvas instead of a fresco on the wall. The competition was probably held in 1582 and I would say that it was rather rough because almost all the important artists of that time participated. For example, Tintoretto, Veronese, Palma il Giovane, Francesco Bassano and maybe Frederico Zuccari. Thought the theme was set, the works submitted differed to a large extent from one artist to another. For example, on the info boards in the Guariento Room, you can see introductions to Veronese’s version currently exhibited in Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, Francesco Bassano’s in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Palma il Giovane’s in Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, Tintoretto’s in Musee du Louvre in Paris and Tintoretto’s “Preparatory oil sketch for Il Paradiso” in Doge’s Palace in Venice which is the one that we can see here. As commented on the info board on site, the compositions submitted “not only reflect the individual aesthetic sensibility of each artist but also focus on specific political and doctrinal aspects of the subject-matter”. Though Tintoretto didn’t win the original competition, he was awarded the commission to paint “Il Paradiso” ten years later. I’m sure you are wondering now who won the competition and why didn’t he paint the huge canvas in this chamber? Well, Paolo Veronese originally won the competition but unfortunately, he died before the work even began… Such a pity for him!

5.13 The Chamber of the Great Council

53 meters long and 25 meters wide, this is not only the largest room in the palace but also one of the largest in the whole of Europe. It was here that meetings of the Great Council were held. We’ve talked about the Council of Ten, the Full Council, the Minor Council and the Council of the Invited but what’s the Great Council? It was a very ancient institution and the most important political body in the Republic. In fact, it was always seen as the protector and promoter of republican equality because it was made up of all the above-25-year-old male members of the Venetian patrician families, regardless of their individual status, merits or wealth. This council had the right to call upon all the authorities and bodies of the state to reconsider their power and to adjust it to keep a balance among them. Therefore, the 1200 to 2000 members in it always considered themselves guardians of the law. In addition, this room also housed the the first phases of the election of a new doge while the second phases were moved to the Sala dello Scrutinio. The election procedures were so long and complicated that no one had the time or energy to try cheating in it.

Having talked about the Great Council and the function of this room, let’s take a look at the decor mostly added at the end of the 16th century. As I mentioned above, the fire in 1577 destroyed this room, in particular its artworks by Guariento, Pisanello, Alvise Virarini, Carpaccio, Bellini, Poedenone, Titian and so on. The structure was soon restored to its original layout but the redecoration took a bit more time involving artists such as Veronese, Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto and Palma il Giovane. As we can see nowadays, the walls are decorated with episodes of Venetian history, which in particular refer to the city’s relation to the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. On each of the side walls, acts of valor and scenes of war which really happened in the city’s history are depicted on six paintings (in total twelve). The ceiling is decorated with allegories of virtues and examples of venetian heroism while the central panel clearly shows the glory of the Republic. Under it, 76 portraits of the first doges consist of a frieze and they were commissioned to Jacopo Tintoretto although almost of them were actually painted by his son Domenico Tintoretto. The portraits of the other doges can be found in the Sala dello Scrutinio. If you take a close look, you will probably notice that each doge holds a scroll. On the scrolls are actually references to the most important achievements that these doges have made. I learnt from the website that Doge Marin Faliero is simply represented by a black cloth because he attempted a coup in 1355, which resulted not only in his death but also in his condemnation of memory. While talking about the decoration of this room, how can we ignore the huge paintings behind the doge’s throne? It is the longest canvas painting in the world! I’ve talked about the reason for as well as the competition of the commission of “Il Paradiso”. In the next paragraph, I’ll place more emphasize on the painting itself.

This painting is so big that it was painted in sections in the nearby Scuola della Misericordia instead of in the artist’s own studio. In fact, most of the work was done by Tintoretto’s workshop under the direction of his son Domenico, who made the final version rather different from his father’s original designs (as I said in the previous chapter, you can make a comparison between the final work and the two drafts made by Tintoretto the father which can be seen in the pictures in the Guariento Room). The whole composition is crowded with around 500 figures depicted in some detail and it seems to celebrate the greatness of the Republic more than it does the triumph of god. If you are interested in a rather detailed description of this painting, please read it on Wikipedia. According to my knowledge, it is an adaption from the texts shown on the info board on site.

5.14 Doge’s apartment

Unfortunately, when I was visiting the Doge’s Palace, an exhibition called “Porto Marghera 100” occupied the rooms in the Doge’s apartment. I couldn’t see much of the decor but still, based on the information I learnt online, I’ll give you a brief introduction.

The doge’s rooms were always located in the canal-wing of the palace. In 1483, a big fire destroyed the entire area and this wing was rebuilt in Renaissance style. Inside the rooms, particularly noteworthy are the engraved wooden ceilings, monumental marble chimneys with delicate carved decorations, stuccos, painted friezes and so on. Though I wasn’t able to see the detailed decor in these rooms, I walked through all of them. Compared with the royal palaces, the apartment appears to be rather small. In fact, the core of the apartment formed a prestigious but not particularly large residence. It was not at all uncommon that the doges had had a much larger palace before moving here. I can’t agree more with the reason suggested on the MUVE website which says that “as if the intention was to emphasize that although he was the symbol of the state, he was, first and foremost, its servant“. What a modern idea! By the end of the day, the doge could leave behind all his work in the office and come to this apartment to dine with his family, surrounded by furnishings he had brought from his own home. At the doge’s death, all his furnishings would be removed immediately by his heirs to make space for the property of the newly elected doge. Now please go downstairs with me and visit the famous Bridge of Sighs, from inside.

5.15 The Bridge of Sighs and the New Prison

I’m quite sure you’ve heard of the name of the bridge at some point in your life. Nevertheless, do remember that it might not only refer to this bridge in Venice. For example, I first heard of The Bridge of Sighs when I was learning Zhimo Xu’s poem “Taking Leave of Cambridge Again”, which is probably the most famous poem of this free-thinking poet who strove to loosen Chinese poetry from its traditional forms. He is one of the most renowned romantic poets of the 20th-century China and made considerable contributions to modern Chinese literature. How is this poem by him connected to the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge? Well, it is commonly believed that the scenes he described in his poem were what he observed close to this particular bridge, thus making it the top one (bridge) attraction in Cambridge. If you are Chinese, I’m 95% sure you are familiar with the lines below:



The English translation provided by Wikipedia is as follows:

Softly I am leaving,
Just as softly as I came;
I softly wave goodbye
To the clouds in the western sky.

The golden willows by the riverside
Are young brides in the setting sun;
Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river
Keep undulating in my heart.

Above are the first two parts of Zhimo Xu’s poem and they gave the first impression of Cambridge to Chinese people of that time. How is the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge related to the one in Venice then? As I read from Wikipedia, the name of the Venice bridge gave inspiration to that of the Cambridge one. In fact, the name “Bridge of Sighs” was applied not only to bridges in Europe, North America and South America, but also to literature, music and films. Now, let’s come back and take a look at the original Bridge of Sighs.

Made of white limestone and designed by Antonio Contino, it was built in 1600. The name was actually given by Lord Byron as a translation from the Italian “Ponte dei sospiri” in the 19th century. Before visiting the Doge’s Palace, I somehow suspected that this bridge had something to do with the palace because they are connected. However, I had no idea that it was used to connect the courtrooms to the new prison and can be passed through from the inside. Well, at least not nowadays.

The two corridors which run next to each other were built in 1614 to link the Doge’s Palace to the structure intended to house the new prison. One of them links the prison to the chambers of the Magistrato alle Leggi and la Quarantia Criminal while the other one links the prison to the Chambers of Censors and of the State Advocacies. The Italian name, as you can imagine, probably came from the feelings of the prisoners, who before serving their sentences in the dark cells, “took a last look at freedom as they glimpsed the lagoon and San Giorgio through the small windows”. It is said that the new prison was intended to improve the living condition of the prisoners with more light and air but certain rooms, in particular the ones with passageways on all sides and the ones giving way to the inner courtyard of the building, failed to achieve this goal. Now let’s go down to the courtyard and visit the Museo dell’Opera.

5.16 Museo dell’Opera

As I mentioned while introducing the history of this palace, at the end of the 19th century, the Italian government allocated a significant amount of fund for an extensive restoration of the building because it showed signs of decomposition. From then on, the 14-th century capitals were replaced and now form the major collection of the Museo dell’Opera. In total, there are six exhibition rooms and I’ll give you a brief introduction to the pieces that interested me the most.

The first room houses six capitals together with their columns from the 14th-century arcade on the lagoon-front, which are part of the earliest decorative sculptures of the palace. The second room houses four capitals with columns from the 14th-century arcade on the Piazzetta-side, whose magnificent carvings represent themes such as work, products of the earth and astrological connections. In the third room, make sure to find the large corner capital with the Creation of Adam, the Planets and the Zodiac. This capital is the one that supports the cornice and the feet of Adam and Eve in the sculptural group at the corner of the palace. It is surmounted by a statue of the Archangel Micheal with drawn sword. In the fourth room, take a look at the massive wall in large rough blocks of living rock. It dates back to the previous version of the palace and provides significant insights into the character and location of the ancient building. The sixth room contains 26 capitals from the arches of the loggias on the first floor of the palace carved by various masons in the 14th and 15th centuries. The main subjects sculpted are human faces of different races emerging from leaves, children, musicians, animals, etc. Against the wall at the far end is the architrave of the Porta della Carta, bearing an inscription of the name of the designer and mason, Bartolomeo Bon, who created this important work with his father, Giovanni Bon. After visiting this museum, you can exit from the famous Porta della Carta, which is connected to the Giants’ Staircase by a covered passageway. What a remarkable masterpiece, isn’t it?

By concluding this post, I’d like to emphasize again that there are MANY MORE rooms than the ones I mentioned above. For example, the Scrutinio Room, which was occupied during my visit by an exhibition called “Treasures of the Mughals and the Maharajas: The Al Thani Collection”, the Chamber of Quarantia Civil Vecchia and the Chamber of Quarantia Criminal, which housed two of the three sub-councils of the Council of Forty (Quarantia), the highest appeal court in the Republic, the Chamber of the Magistrato alle Leggii, the Chamber of Censors, the Chamber of the State Advocacies, the “Scrigno” Room, the Chamber of the Navy Captains and of course in the Doge’s apartment, the Scarlet Room, the Shield Room, the Grimani Room, the Errizo Room, the Stucco Room, the Philosophers Room and so on. Considering my failure in visiting the Scrutinio Room and the apartment, a second visit has already been decided. To be honest, even if I had visited all the rooms, I still think a second or even a third visit is worth it because there’s indeed so much to learn and so much to admire. In the next post, I’m gonna introduce to you another museum on St. Mark’s Square, Museo Correr, featuring the imperial rooms, the Canova collection and the art and history of Venice. Don’t forget, the combined itinerary includes visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Venice and the Monumental Rooms of Biblioteca Marciana as well.

Venice – the civic museums (Palazzo Ducale) was last modified: July 4th, 2019 by Dong

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