After walking around Piazza San Marco and visiting Saint Mark’s Basilica (see previous posts), the next place to check out is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) which is just next door to the cathedral. The Doge was the chief magistrate and leader of the Republic of Venice, as selected by a committee composed of forty representatives of the wealthiest families.
Built in 1340 the palace is the most important example of Venetian Gothic (see coming post); a model for an architectural style emulated by many other buildings in the city. Due to Covid restrictions, I couldn’t go inside the palace sadly but it’s one of my must-dos for the next time I go.
St. Mark’s Basilica used to be the Doge’s chapel before it became the city’s cathedral.
The ceremonial entrance to the palace, located just next to the cathedral, is the Porta della Carta. The gateway is topped by a statue of Justice with her traditional symbols of sword and scales, above a bust of St. Mark the Evangelist. On the cornice there’s a sculpture of the Doge Francesco Foscari kneeling before the Lion of Saint Mark.
Each corner of the building is decorated with an aedicula (a niche covered by a pediment or entablature supported by a pair of columns that frames a statue).
On the first corner by the sea, the Archangel Michael is at the top with sword drawn, while at the bottom are Adam and Eve, separated by a protective fig tree, around which the serpent is wrapped.
The capitals of the columns on the ground floor loggia (covered gallery) each have a different theme. Here Moses is receiving the ten commandments from God.
Others feature subjects such as birds, fruit or animals. It’s thought these beautiful 14th-century sculptures, are the work of Lombard artists.
On the piazza side of the palace, the monumental central balcony is where death sentences were read out to the public after justice had been dispensed inside by the doge. The balcony has a depitction of another doge, Andrea Gritti, with the Lion of San Marco. I understand that the topmost statue is a representation of Venice itself in female form. The aediculae at the corners contain statues of Mars and Neptune, Mercury and Jupiter.
At the back of the palace, crossing the canal, is the famous Ponte de Sospiri (translated by Bryon as ‘The Bridge of Sighs’) which was built in 1614 to connect the Doge’s Palace to a newly built prison block. The name was coined during the Romantic period as it was imagined the bridge was the last view of Venice (in particular the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and the lagoon) that convicts had before they passed from the interrogation rooms to the prison. In reality the grille over the window obscures the view and the days of executions and inquisitions were long over by the time the bridge was built.
The aedicula at this corner (my favourite) depicts the biblical episode of Noah’s Drunkenness. Facing the sea is the naked figure of the elderly Noah, inebriated and staggering.
Around the corner are his two sons, one of whom is covering his father’s nakedness with a cloth, although it looks more like he is stopping him from falling in the canal!
I took the photos above from the Ponte della Paglia, which you can see at the end of the canal in this photo.
The next post continues our walk along the waterfront…