The Palazzo Ducale or Doge’s Palace in Venice is one of the main landmarks of the city. The building is an unmistakable testament to Venice’s historic wealth and power. Its facade features a gorgeous pink Verona marble – is a real Gothic masterpiece. For almost 1000 years it was the building from which 120 Doges (or chief magistrates) wielded their awesome power and decided Venice’s fate. This seat of government housed a Senate, court facilities, the secret police, and also prisons. It was also the residence of the Doge of Venice, who – once elected – would remain in his position for life.
The Palace is key to understanding the city’s history. Built on the foundations of a 9th-century fortress, this palace is unquestionably the finest secular European building of its time which, in the course of centuries, had served many purposes, including Doge residence, seat of the Venetian government, court of law, civil office, and even a prison.
First built in the 14th century, much of the original palace was destroyed by fire in the 16th century reducing to ashes most of the art treasures held inside. Some of the greatest Venetian masters of the time, such as Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Bellini, and Tiepolo, contributed to restoring the palace to its former glory, recreating gilded stucco, sculptures, frescoes, and canvases.
The interior of the palace – spectacular furnishings and paintings, marvelously adorned ceilings – reveals lavishness on the scale that is hard to match. The most outstanding is the Grand Council chamber, featuring Tintoretto’s “Paradise”, reportedly the world’s largest oil painting. Running up to it, in terms of grandeur, is the Sala dello Scrutinio or the “Voting Hall” embellished with paintings depicting Venice’s glorious past.
By the end of the 13th century, Venice was one of Europe’s richest cities, mostly due to trading spices, silks, and wool between Europe and the Middle East. Its wealthy citizens became patrons of the arts, commissioning fabulous sculptures and paintings to decorate their palaces.
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