The Doge's Palace aka the Palazzo Ducale in the famous St. Marks Square in Venice, Italy is much more than meets the eye. Thanks to City Wonders, we enjoyed a tour which included secret rooms, prison cells, a torture chamber, and an Armory display as well as fascinating background history from our knowledgeable guide.
The palace, built in1340, was the residence of The Doge, the supreme ruler of The Republic of Venice, and has become one of the main landmarks of the city of Venice. This huge building also contains numerous meeting rooms and offices. The building is complex as is the history that it represents.
We had previously toured with City Wonders formerly known as Dark Rome tours and were impressed with the knowledge of their guides and their access to parts of the sites that most tourists are not able to visit. See Dark Rome Tour of Roman Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum Review - A Must Do and Crypts and Catacombs Tour Review – Dark Rome Tours Shows Unique Aspects of Roman History.)
They took us behind the scenes into locked areas at the The Roman Coliseum. They literally had the keys to limited access areas. Aga, our local guide, was equally qualified.
Our small group entered the enormous courtyard where Aga began to share her wealth of knowledge. She explained that The Republic of Venice was a democracy and that The Doge was selected for life by elected council members. The Doge did not receive a salary and often used his own funds to maintain the facilities and trappings that went with the title . Since The Doge was elected for life and people were concerned about him having too much power, the Doges selected were generally elderly when elected as well as being wealthy. Aga told us that there there were 120 Doges during the Republic which lasted until Napoleon invaded in 1797.
As we toured the palace, Aga pointed out many unique features. She showed us a white brick in one of the walls which had a slit. This slit led to a mailbox which held letters written by citizens who wished to accuse someone of a crime. A group of ten men would review the letters and would bring the accused in for trial.
Aga had a key to the old prison or Plombi which is not open to the general public. She explained that prisoners housed on the bottom floor of the prison often died when tidal flood waters filled their cell.
The prison area included numerous secret doors, one of which led to a torture room. Aga showed us the area where prisoners were bound and suspended with their arms tied behind their backs. The torture took place at night and a prisoner's lawyer as well as a doctor were present.
We visited the cell where the famous lover Giacomo Casanova was imprisoned. Casanova escaped from the prison under mysterious circumstances. According to his memoirs, published in 1788, he initially tried to dig out of his cell, but eventually escaped by cutting a hole in the roof. Aga believes that he escaped through a series of bribes.
We passed the office of the great chancellor who was in charge of the Republic's secret documents and was the highest paid official in the Republic's administration making the equivalent of $750,000 a year. Big money in those days.
Aga explained that prisoners crossed over the Bridge of Sighs on their way to the cell that would be their home for a long time to come. The Bridge is so named because they signed as they caught their last glimpse of the city and freedom.
As usual, the Palace was full of tourists and we were able to better appreciate the merits of taking the City Wonders Secret Itineraries Tour. The limited size of the group eliminates the bumping and vying for position to be able to see the attractions being described by the leader. And the headsets assure that you can hear every word without straining.
Following our tour we spent time in the other areas of the complex along with the many tourists who put this high on their list of spots to visit in Venice.
This tour is just one the many tours that City Wonders runs. For further information, see City Wonders.
PHOTOS BY DIANNE R. DAVIS OR BURT DAVIS