The secret itinerary of the Doges Palace, Venice, is a journey through the inner sanctums of the brain that ruled the Venetian Republic. A fascinating tour that provides a unique glimpse at the history of Venice.
THE SECRET ITINERARY OF THE DOGES PALACE
The secret itinerary of the Doges Palace begins on the upper floors of the Doges Palace. As you climb up the lavishly decorated Golden staircase that expresses the great wealth that the Venetians once possessed you come to a tall wooden sturdy door that's always locked, except for those lucky enough to have reservations to enjoy a very different tour of the Doges Palace.
The secret itinerary of the Doges Palace literally takes you into the inner sanctums of the brain of Venice. Rooms and chambers that were previously off-limits to everyone, except the most trusted members of the Venetian government. Behind the vast expanses of the grand halls and chambers of the public-face of the Doges Palace lay a warren of offices, corridors and other rooms where the secret work of the Venetian Empire took place.
On the secret itinerary of the Doges Palace you will visit the Chancellor's Office, a powerful position in the days of the Republic. Like the position of the Doges, was an appointment for life. All state processions were led by the Chancellor, and the Chancellor was the man responsible for writing all the secret documents of the state. Typical of the Venetians mentality, they ensured that all critical members of their government remained loyal to the state by paying them generous salaries. The Chancellor of the Republic was earning the equivalent of 600,000 € a year back in the 14th Century! For such a powerful position you'll note his office was extremely small.
Next you'll visit the upper Chancellors Offices where over twenty secretaries worked assisting the Chancellor in the preparation & storage of secret documents. These workers also enjoyed privileged positions and high salaries. The interior of the Chancellors office has the form of a ship, and in fact most of the rooms on the secret itinerary were constructed of wood and built by workers from the Arsenale.
The famous ship-building yard of the Venetian Republic where they once boasted they construct a ship in just one-day. The office is split into two-levels like a ship with railings separating each part, and the doors that you see throughout the secret itinerary of the Doges Palace are again in the style of one's you would find on a ship. Self closing doors, with special hinges that closed them air-tight to prevent any over hearing things from the corridor outside. The secret documents were stored in the cabinets that line the rooms and along the top of these cabinets you'll see the family crests of previous Chancellors. The Venetians did such a good job of protecting their secret documents that Venice now possesses the 3rd largest collection of documents of antiquity in the World.
The corridors between the rooms are of simple wooden construction, narrow and dimly-lit it feels as if you are walking through the confines of the hull of a great ship from ancient times. The next stop on the secret itinerary of the Doges Palace is the gruesome torture chamber. Here the three state inquisitors would torture prisoners with one simple device. The prisoner would have his hands tied behind his back and the rope would push-out and disjoint the poor prisoners shoulders and back-bones as he was propelled towards the ceiling. For added theatrics, prisoners awaiting to be tortured would be in cells either side of the ropes were they could see and hear their colleagues being tortured. The torture chamber is illuminated by a single window that would project light into the eyes of the person being tortured so that he wouldn't be able to see his inquisitors.
Continuing on through a warren of rooms and corridors we arrive at the famous prison cells of the Doges Palace that are one of the highlights of the Secret Itinerary of the Doges Palace. The same prison cells in which Casanova was imprisoned and from where he later escaped. Casanova was a very popular man with the women of Venice, but unfortunately not-so popular with the powerful men whose wives Casanova had conquered. After several attempts to arrest Casanova on trumped up charges, his enemies finally got their way when books on magic were found in Casanovas rooms. Possession of such books could lead to the death penalty, but fortunately for Casanova the law had been changed just six-months earlier and so he received a prison sentence instead.
The cells with low ceilings were not very accommodating for a man some two-metres tall. But, having good connections Casanova was granted an armchair, exercise time in the attic of the Doges Palace, as well as food brought to him from good-wishers from outside the prison. The "I Piombi" prisons, were so called because they lay directly below the lead roofs of the Doges Palace. These wooden cells beneath the lead roofs would be intolerably hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter months.
Casanova attempted twice to escape from the prisons. The first attempt failed as he was transferred to another cell just before he had a chance to escape via a whole in the floor he had made with a piece of marble and iron that he found while taking exercise in the attic of the Doges Palace. His second attempt from another cell was more successful and after a meandering route through the Palace he actually walked through the main entrance of Doges Palace, "La Porta Della Carta" to his freedom. You'll see both cells as well as the attic of the Doges Palace on the Secret Itinerary.
In fact, for some, the stroll along the narrow gangway directly beneath the roof to admire the incredible beams and structure of the timber framing that dates back to the 16th century is the real highlight of the secret itinerary of the Doges Palace. The sheer weight of this timber construction would normally require supporting columns, but the Venetians found a way to have them self-supporting so that the vast expanses of the "Sala Maggiore" where up to 2,000 elected officials of the Venetian government would conduct their business is not cluttered with columns and pillars supporting the roof. The wooden beams with bathed in salt water for several months which fossilized them making them as hard as stone. And the residual salt prevented woodworm from destroying them!
The Last two rooms on the Secret itinerary of the Doges Palace are the offices of the state inquisitors and the offices of the judges of the infamous council of ten. Each chamber boasts works by a famous Venetian artist. The first with works by Tintoretto, and the second with works by Veronese. These are the only rooms on the secret itinerary of the Doges Palace with original decorations and furnishings. The chamber of the three judges shows another method of maintaining secrecy in that the cabinets that were used to store documents each had 3 locks. Each of the three judges had one key each and so it was impossible to open one without all three being present.
After the secret itinerary of the Doges Palace you re-enter the public areas of the Palace where you can take a tour of the other parts of the Palace including crossing the bridge of sighs and admire the works of other Venetian masters on display, as well as other works by Sansovino, Palladio, Antonio Da Ponte & many others. Combining a tour of the Doges Palace with the secret itinerary of the Doges Palace you can expect to spend around three-to-four hours to see everything!