It is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
The Doge’s Palace was the residence of the Doge (the ruler of Venice) and also housed the political bodies of the state, including the Great Council and the Council of Ten.
Within the lavish complex, there were law courts, administrative offices, courtyards, grand stairways, and ballrooms, as well as prisons on the ground floor.
First raised in the 9th century, the Doge’s Palace was rebuilt many times thereafter, and it was with the construction of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in 1340 that the present building really took shape. Work continued until 1420, largely under the guidance of architect and sculptor Filippo Calendario.
There were numerous expansions of the Doge’s Palace throughout subsequent centuries, including after 1574 and 1577, when fires ravaged parts of the building. Great Venetian architects, such as Filippo Calendario and Antonio Rizzo, as well as the masters of Venetian painting – Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese – contributed to the elaborate interior design.
By the end of the 19th century, the building was showing clear signs of decay. The Italian government spent a lot of money to repair the building. All public offices were moved elsewhere, except the State Office for the protection of historical Monuments, which is still housed at the palace’s loggia floor.
In 1923, the Italian State, owner of the building, entrusted the management to the Venetian municipality to be run as a museum.
Since 1996, the Doge’s Palace has been part of the Venetian museums network, which has been under the management of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia since 2008.
The facades include a lower section consisting of a ground floor colonnade beneath an open loggia. Unlike many other medieval era palaces, here at the Palazzo Ducale, the loggias are below while the solid walls are above.
The oldest part of the palace is the wing overlooking the lagoon, the corners of which are decorated with 14th-century sculptures, thought to be by Filippo Calendario and various Lombard artists such as Matteo Raverti and Antonio Bregno.
The Porta della Carta, the palace’s main entrance, is the link between the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, created by the brothers Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon in the mid-1400s.
The north side of the courtyard is closed by the junction between the palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, which used to be the Doge’s chapel. At the center of the courtyard stand two well-heads dating from the mid-16th century.
After entering the inner courtyard you’ll find a flight of stairs that led to the Doge’s private quarters, known as the “Scala dei Giganti” and flanked by huge statues of Mars and Neptune.
Inside, the walls are made of stucco and the ceilings feature ornate works of art. The doge’s apartment was on the second floor while the chancellery offices were located on the first. On the third level was the Sala del Collegio, where the doge met with foreign ambassadors. Here, today’s visitors will find portraits of all of Venice’s doges, except one, who disgraced himself by attempting a coup d’etat.
Restructured in the 14th century, the Chamber of the Great Council was decorated with a fresco by Guariento and later with works by the most famous artists of the period, including Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello, Alvise Vivarini, Vittore Carpaccio, Giovanni Bellini, Pordenone and Titian. 53 meters long and 25 meters wide, this is not only the largest chamber in the Doge’s Palace, but also one of the largest rooms in Europe.
In the basement were several prison cells, which housed convicts awaiting trial. When the “new” prison was built on the other side of the Rio di Palazzo the facility was no longer used. The new prison was connected to the palace via the now famous Bridge of Sighs [photo below].
There are a number of 19th-century imitations of the palace’s architecture in the United Kingdom, for example:
• the Wool Exchange, Bradford,
• the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem,
• the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
• the Templeton’s Carpet Factory, Glasgow.
The Central rail station, in Iași (Romania), built in 1870, had as a model the architecture of the Doge’s Palace.
The Ismailiyya building in Baku, which at present serves as the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, was styled after the Doge’s Palace.
The elaborate arched facade of the 1895 building of Congregation Ohabai Shalome in San Francisco is a copy in painted redwood of the Doge’s Palace.
Along with other Venetian landmarks, the palace is imitated in The Venetian, Las Vegas and its sister resort The Venetian Macao.
The Doge’s Palace was recreated and is playable in the 2009 video game, Assassin’s Creed II.