Venice, Palazzo Ducale, its prisons and the Bridge of Sighs
Duration: 2 hours
The Doge’s Palace in Venice is a monumental building overlooking the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco and one of the most visited museums in Italy, with over one million visitors a year. It is a somewhat atypical museum, in a sense a museum of itself, given that the exhibited collection is mainly made up of the wonderful building, its exceptional decorative apparatus and the artistic works that have always enriched it. The works on display in the rooms of the palace include paintings on canvas and frescoes by Gentile da Fabriano, Carpaccio, Tiziano, Andrea Palladio, Tintoretto, Giambattista Tiepolo and Veronese, among many others, as well as pieces of decorative art and furnishings.
The palace itself is an exceptional example of Venetian Gothic-Renaissance architecture, built in its current forms starting from the fourteenth century on pre-existing medieval military buildings and structures. Although a Palazzo Ducale (which in fact was always, as well as the official residence of the Doges, also the seat of the government and court of the Republic) probably already existed in the ninth century, the building we see today took shape mainly in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Palatine complex is made up of three main bodies. The oldest wing, which also houses the imposing Sala del Maggior Consiglio, is the one overlooking the Grand Canal, built starting from 1340. The body that opens onto St. Mark’s Square was built in 1424. The wing that houses the Doge’s apartments was instead built between 1483 and 1565, in this time the large monumental courtyard was also completely renovated.
Until the early seventeenth century, the palace also housed a prison – known as I Piombi, from the material that covered its roof – which was then moved to the adjacent building known as the Prisons of the Nine and connected to the Doge’s Palace by the famous Bridge of Sighs (an allusion to the complaints of prisoners who once passed through it).