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The Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour

When you take a Doge’s Palace tour you can walk the same route that 99% of everyone in history has walked, or you can step into the back rooms on one of the Doge’s Palace secret itineraries tours. These take you through a network of hidden passages that only the Doge (Venetian for “Duke”) and his most trusted political allies used to move through the palace. The tours also stop in the rooms that were of vital importance to the running of the maritime empire. These run the gamut from grand halls to squalid jail cells and even torture chambers.

The facade of the Doge's Palace.
The facade of the Doge's Palace.
The Bridge of Sighs can only be visited on a Dog'es Palace secret itineraries tour.
The Bridge of Sighs can only be visited on a Dog'es Palace secret itineraries tour.
Doge Girolamo Priuli by Tintoretto's workshop.
Doge Girolamo Priuli by Tintoretto's workshop.
The facade of the Doge's Palace.
The Bridge of Sighs can only be visited on a Dog'es Palace secret itineraries tour.
Doge Girolamo Priuli by Tintoretto's workshop.

Taking a Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour: What to See

The Chamber of the Great Council

One of the largest single rooms in all of Europe, this was where the men from the patrician families Venice met to decide the political issues of the Republic. Although not the most representative body you could imagine, these roughly 2,000 men were essentially the guardians of Venetian law. The Doge, despite being their leader, could not act without their approval.  The walls are decorated with friezes of the first 76 doges, most holding scrolls that contain lists of their main accomplishments. The single exception is Doge Marin Faliero, who is covered in a black veil. Any guesses why? He attempted to overthrow the council in 1355. Not only did the council have him executed, they also condemned him to damnatio memoriae, or complete annihilation of his legacy – hence the veil. 

The Prison Cells and the Torture Chamber

There were two types of prison cells in the Doge’s palace. The pozzi  were small, dank cells in the basement for common criminals and the piombo were more comfortable cells on higher floors  for political prisoners. The piombo were made famous by Giacomo Casanova, who was once confined to them and wrote about their wretchedness in his memoirs. Casanova may have had a point, but once you see how nice they are when compared to the pozzi, you’ll have a better appreciation of Casanova’s reputation for exaggeration.

The Torture chamber was where inmates were taken to give testimonies or have confessions extracted from them. This was usually accomplished by hanging them by the neck until they agreed to speak. Today a replica rope and hanging stand give an authentic, if somewhat macabre air to the room. It isn’t hard for visitors to imagine a hapless prisoner, already broken from weeks in the pozzi, shuffling in to receive yet more punishment under the cold eyes of the inquisitors.  

The New Prison and Bridge of Sighs

Around 1600 the architect Antonio da Ponte (of Rialto Bridge Fame) decided to move the pozzi prison cells to a new building on the other side of a narrow canal. In a rare flourish of Baroque efficiently he connected them directly to the torture chamber. Presumably, this streamlined the process of confession and imprisonment – “due process” being a somewhat foreign concept to in Venetian law at the time. This connecting passage over a narrow canal, designed by his nephew, Antonio Contino, quickly entered into Venetian Lore as the Ponte dei Sospiri, or as Lorde Byron translated it, “Bridge of Sighs.”

Despite common myths, the origin of the name is somewhat obscure. In popular folklore it comes from the sighs of condemned prisoners heading from the inquisition rooms to their jail cells and experiencing their last views of the beautiful city. However, by the time the bridge was built there were very few people being condemned to life sentences in the prison. In all likelihood, this is probably a story invented by the English Romantics who flocked to the city in the 19th century. But even if that is the case, it’s a pretty darn good story.

The Palace Armory

The Doge’s Armory is a room that shows off the deadly weapons used to help protect Venice’s shipping lanes. Much of what is on display in the Doge’s Palace secret itineraries tour was not actually made in the palace; it was constructed in the Venice Arsenal, the largest industrial complex in the world during Venice’s heyday. Since the survival of Venice (which had barely any actual territory to call its own) depended on its weapons, its Arsenal was one of the most dynamic and forward-thinking of its age, capable of springing into production at a moment’s notice when war was declared or sieges of the lagoon were threatened. 

Today There are also artifacts in the armory taken from battles, like Turkish lamps and a triangular standard pillaged from the famous Battle of Lepanto. Amid the swords, crossbows and suits of armor, keep an eye out for the “devil’s chest”. If not opened properly, this seemingly innocuous trunk would shoot four pistols and a poisoned arrow at whoever was unlucky enough to pop the clasp.

The Doge’s Apartments

Although these rooms might seem small for a head of state, remember that the Doge was still considered a servant of Venice.  One must-see room is the shield room, which features a collection of large maps showing you just how expansive the Republic of Venice became. There are also paintings glorifying the exploits of famous Venetian explorers like Nicola and Antonio Zen who sailed as far as Greenland. Don’t miss – not that you could, the two giant globes showing the heavens and earth as they were known in the 18th century.

Tips for Seeing the Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries

Opening Times

The Doge’s palace has different hours for the high season and low season.  From April 1st to October 31st the Palace is open from 8:30am to 7:00pm with last entry at 6:00pm. From November 1st to March 31st, the palace is open from 8:30am to 5:30pm with last entry at 4:30pm.  The palace is closed on December 25th and January 1st.

Tickets

You can only take a secret itineraries tour with certified tour guides like the ones at Walks of Italy

Rules

The Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour is not wheelchair accessible.

Like most other museums in Italy you are not allowed to enter with large backpacks or luggage though you can check them in the cloak room.

The Best Time to Visit the Doge’s Palace

If you take a Doge’s Palace secret itineraries tour you won’t have to worry about crowds because only guided tours are allowed into the areas they visit. The larger Doge’s Palace is another story.

Due to its small size as well as its immense popularity Venice doesn’t have a true off-season. The question is not if it will be crowded but how crowded it will be. Crowds thin slightly from November through February, especially in the museums, but the weather can range from cloudy and misty to floods. Venice doesn’t flood every winter but during bad winters the infamous “acqua alta” is a force to be reckoned with so keep an eye on weather reports before you go. If you choose the normal tourist season, the best time to visit the Doge’s palace is during non-peak hours. That means first thing in the morning and at lunchtime. 

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