Unless you’ve traveled to Venice or are a history buff, you may not know what the Palazzo Ducale (the Doge’s Palace) is. Honestly, neither did I until I did my half-assed research of the city before we left. But I found out enough to know that it was a museum we should probably get advance tickets to. And it did not disappoint. (More on that later.)
Our day was well-planned: We would see the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica) and then head into the Palazzo Ducale. We stepped out of the apartment at half past eight to get in line for the basilica, only to find that it didn’t actually open until 9:30. Oops. Instead of waiting for nearly an hour for the doors to open, we decided to try our luck at the Doge’s Palace. To our delight, it was already open, and had been for a half hour (again, research is your friend, people).
We got in the queue, which consisted of just the two of us, and quickly made our way inside. We were greeted by a huge, empty courtyard adorned with Venetian Gothic arches.
What little I knew about the palace from my research was that it was the seat of government for the Republic of Venice back in the….day. (Further online research confirms that “the day” was the 9th to the 18th centuries, officially.) The way the city functioned was impressive: As a collection of islands, it was easily defensible; as a republic, it had an elected doge instead of a monarch; as a city on an important trade route, it was wealthy, diplomatically advanced, and highly tolerant of foreigners and foreign influences; as a worldly city, it was relatively secular for its time (the government itself was secular); and as a trade-dependent city, it was innovative in its approach to financial dealings. In short, it was a highly advanced city in just about every way at the height of its power and influence. No wonder it thrived for so long.
And the Palazzo Ducale was the center of it all.
I didn’t expect the palace to be impressive on the inside. But upon entering, a grand, ornate staircase led to cavernous rooms with gilded moldings and one-of-a-kind works of art by the Venetian masters Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto. I guess I thought a republic couldn’t have as impressive of a palace as a monarchy, but I was proven very wrong.
Here’s some proof of just how cool this place was on the inside.
Next, we toured the prison. In all honesty, it was about as impressive as an old medieval prison can be. Stone walls, stone floors, stone beds, cast-iron gates. After seeing about three cells I was bored.
Don’t miss the bridge leading into the prison. It is called the “Bridge of Sighs” because, as legend has it, prisoners would let out a sigh as they would pass through and catch their last glimpse ever of their beautiful city. Here is what they would have seen:
After the prison, we made our way back to the courtyard to get some last snaps before leaving.
With our tour complete, we elbowed our way through the St. Mark’s Square crowds to the vaporetto that would take us to our next destination: an under-the-radar church and bell tower (with an impressive history in its own right) that offers 360-degree panoramic views of the city and lagoon.
Just one stop from the S. Zaccaria vaporetto station on the No. 2 line at Isola San Giorgio, the Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiori (Church of San Giorgio Maggiori) happens to be situated on a small island directly across from St. Mark’s Square. This gives it the distinction of having the Best View in Venice, according to me.
€6 will get you to the top of the bell tower, where you will be greeted with panoramic views of the city. Be sure to stick your tongue out at the crowds in St. Mark’s Square while you’re there.
The church also hosts installations from contemporary artists. The current one features a large stainless steel sculpture of a hand created from characters from eight different languages. It signifies people and traditions being united. What a lovely message.
Would you believe me if I told you we did all of this before lunch? Next, we headed to the Cannaregio neighborhood to wander more streets and grab a bite to eat. More on that here!