Inside the Doge’s Palace

For hundreds of years, these were the corridors of power in Venice. The administrative nerve centre, the courts, the assembly rooms and of course, the living quarters of Venice’s CEO, the duke, or doge as he was called. I though Venice was pretty progressive for its time. It was not ruled by an absolute monarch but was a republic, the duke being an elected position one held until death. Upon election, he had to leave his own palazzo and relocate here to this big sprawling complex, bringing with him his own interior decorator, new drapes and his teddy.

It was a rainy morning which put quite a damper on our plans, so we decided to best stick indoors until the rain stops. It was early in the morning but there was already a lo-oong line outside St Mark’s Basilica, so I skipped next door and bought tickets for the Doge’s Palace. No queue.

The rain made everything look darker and pretty gloomy. It was also freezing cold. Unusual for mid May but fitting for a visit to the cavernous rooms of the palace and the dungeons. The grand reception and legislative assembly rooms were impressive, including the famous Il Paradiso by Tintoretto, the world’s largest oil painting. But chalk it down to the gloomy weather, I was more fascinated by the jail on the other side of the canal.

This intrigued me. It was clearly a postbox of some kind. It was situated near the court rooms of the palace and reminded me of the Bocca dell Verita (mouth of truth) in Rome, so I guessed it was perhaps a secret postbox for tip-offs or something like that. The back of this wall was a locked opening – exactly like a post box. I googled this image until I found this on Wikipedia. My guess was not too far wrong after all. It was a Lion’s Mouth postbox for anonymous denunciations. The translation of the text reads: “Secret denunciations against anyone who will conceal favors and services or will collude to hide the true revenue from them.”

An iconic Venetian landmark, the famous Bridge of Sighs viewed from the exterior. It may look romantic and its name may imply romance but not if you’re the prisoner walking across for a lifetime of incarceration in the bowels of the cold stone block across the canal. The bridge links the courts to the jail. Note the building on the right with its heavily barred windows. Part of the dungeon actually lay a little below water level – making winters and the season of aqua alta (the season of floods) quite unpleasant for the prisoners.

From the inside, walking across the bridge, the prisoner could get a glimpse of the outside world, perhaps his last glimpse for a long time. This would very likely be what he would see:

You would not like to be stuck in a cell behind one of these:

In certain cells you could even see ancient prison graffiti. Out of the thousands who were held here, only a handful ever managed to escape and one of them was the infamous Casanova.

The rain had stopped by the time we finished our walk through the palace. We ended at the gift shop which sold nice but expensive souvenirs where I as usual, got carried away and bought stuff I didn’t need and would dearly regret carting around in my luggage in the days to come.

In the forecourt of the palace just before we exited, we saw tourists excitedly gesticulating and taking pictures of the Giant’s Staircase (yes that is really what it is called). This was where dignitaries and visitors would walk up to the palace and standing at the top of the stairs waiting for them would be the doge and his entourage, the whole thing – stairs, statues etc – deliberately designed and staged to create a sense of awe for Venetian authority, power and wealth.

I, on the other hand, had the same sense of awe seeing Paul Newman aka Mars on the left in near naked glory with Poseidon glaring jealously at him for stealing his thunder.

 

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