The Palazzo Ducale in Venice is one of the most famous landmarks of Venice and is considered one of the architectural and historical symbols of the city.
Located in the San Marco area, it was for centuries the Palace of the Venetian Government being the place where the Venetian Doge and his magistrates administered power and justice.
Today it houses the Civic Museum of Palazzo Ducale and it’s visited by over one million people every year.
The Palazzo Ducale (also known as the Doge's Palace), as the nearby Basilica of San Marco, has a long history of construction, major renovations and additions.
The first construction, in form of a fortress, is traced back to the 9th century, which over the centuries many changes and reconstructions where made. In 1100 the Palace was transformed from fortress to Noble Palace, the most elegant but without fortifications and it is only in 1443 that it came to its present form, under the rule of Doge Francesco Foscari.
In early 1600’s, to the Doge’s Palace complex were added the "New Prisons" (and later "I Piombi" ) which were linked to it via the famous "Ponte die Sospiri" Bridge of Sighs whose name derives from the path that the convicted were to follow, from courtrooms to the place of their incarceration.
The Palazzo Ducale complex is realized in Venetian-Gothic style and is arranged around a courtyard with arcades. The two main facades are characterized by two rows of columns supporting a massive top-level inlaid with marble and pierced by large lancet windows.
The "Porta della Carta" (Door of Papers), built in flamboyant Gothic style, is the main entrance of the complex and was so called because on it were posted laws and decrees. Its authors were Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon whose signature is still legible, in Latin language, on the door beam: "Opus Bartholomei " .
The inner courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale repeats Venetian Gothic-style exterior with porches, balconies and monumental stairways. In this area took place the coronation ceremonies of the Doges and even some tournaments.
The interior of the Palace consists of several halls historically used to house the various judicial and administrative functions of the Venice Government. In them you could find magistrates, lawyers, squires, counselors, Venetian nobles etc.. In addition to public office rooms and halls, the Palace also contained the private accommodation of the Doge.
It now houses the Museo Civico (Venice Civic Museum), the numerous halls and salons can boast countless works of art, sculpture and paintings by artists such as Gentile da Fabriano, Veronese, Tintoretto, Tiziano and Tiepolo, to name a few.
The Palazzo Ducale did not house, however, only government offices but also the prisons in which convicted ones were thrown.
The basement of the Palace was occupied by the prison called "I Pozzi" (the Wells) below the level of the lagoon and therefore it was moist, dark and unhealthy.
The attic instead housed the prison called "I Piombi" (the Leads) which received this name because of the lead used in the roofing materials.
The prison, less inhumane of "I Pozzi" was used to imprison important Venetians such as nobles, clergy and wealthy Venetians. It is famous in Italian history the imprisonment and escape of Giacomo Casanova.