Walking the Doge

Venice was a republic for about 11 centuries, in fact to give Venice its official title, it was The Most Serene Republic of Venice.

At the heart of Venice is the Doge’s Palace, it is the ornate building which first greets visitors who arrive in Venice by sea.  As Venice was a prominent seafaring and merchant city for many centuries, it is only appropriate that the city’s most eminent building, should be the first thing a traveller sees when visiting Venice.

The Doge was the title given to the Chief Magistrate, and hence Leader, of Venice.  The Palace, as well as being the Doge’s residence, also housed the political institutions, such as the Seat of Government, The Palace of Justice and also a prison.

The building’s two most visible facades overlook both the Venice Lagoon and St Mark’s Square, the most prominent square in Venice.

Initially, when it was built in the ninth century A.D. the building was more similar to a castle than a palace as it contained four sighting towers and high defensive walls. This was because it was in a strategic position controlling the city, near to its sea access. Later, due to a series of fires and subsequent rebuilding, it became what we can see today – a splendid example of Venetian gothic architecture.

This imposing building has the one feature typical of Venetian architecture: lightness. Despite its considerable size, the multi-coloured façade decorations and the splendid perforation of the Gothic loggias, like stone lace, give us an elegant structure that isn’t heavy in appearance.

When visiting the Doge’s Palace, you can see the prison where many unfortunates were held.  The prison had a reputation for being notoriously difficult to escape from, and one of its most famous inmates was the serial seducer Casanova.  By using a combination of wile and charm, Casanova did manage to escape the prison and flee Venice.

His memoirs entitled “The story of my escape from the Piombi” were printed in 1788 and soon became the equivalent of a modern best-seller.

Casanova left the prison on the night between 31 October and 1 November 1756. Digging up the wooden planks with a makeshift tool he climbed out of his cell onto the roof and then down into an attic. Crossing the whole palace he reached the golden staircase where he was seen by a guard who mistook him for a politician who’d been locked in and let him out.

Today, you can visit Casanova’s tiny, barren cell and fully understand why he was so desperate to escape.

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