Venice - The Doge's Palace

You can't miss the Doge's Palace. No really, it's inescapable, you can't see any of Venice's main sights without walking or sailing past the palace. The elegant peach and white patterned brick walls and carved windows lead you from the lagoon right into St. Mark's Square. The Doge's Palace, aka the Palazzo Ducale or the Duke's Palace, is one of Venice's top attractions. It's easy to see why. Every inch of the palace is designed leave visitors in awe. And it's here you'll find one of Venice's most iconic landmarks, Santa di Spirito, the Bridge of Sighs.

The grand interior courtyard of the Doge's Palace.
A young girl takes a photo at The Doge's Palace in Venice.
A breathtaking view of the Venetian Lagoon and island of San Giorgio Maggiore from The Doge's Palace.

Venetians sure loved their gold. Like St. Mark's Basilica and Cafe Florian, Doge's Palace is gilded to the studs. The grandeur begins in the marbled courtyard. Imagine yourself as a guest of the Duke, being lead into the palace, climbing the marble stairs, ceiling gold and unbelievably ornate. They don't call it Scala d'oro (The Golden Staircase) for nothing. And you haven't even reached the most impressive space. The largest room in the Palace, The Council Chamber, was designed by Andrea Palladio and is lined with massive paintings by Veronese and Tintoretto. Even the view from the windows is picture perfect. South facing windows frame a view of the lagoon and San Giorgio Maggiore, while, to the north, there are sight-lines all the way across the island. The palace is situated like a fortress.

The impressive Council Chamber at The Doge's Palace, Venice.

The Bridge of Sighs is pretty, sure, and the story certainly has a tragic sort of romance, but I wouldn't rank it up there with Venice's most spectacular landmarks. Maybe it's more impressive seen from the water on a $100 gondola ride. Still, it was nice to see from the inside. The story goes that prisoners were led from the Doge's Palace across the Bridge of Sighs to the windowless prison. It was through the stone windows that convicts got their last glimpse of Venice and of freedom. What I did like about the bridge was the opportunity to get up close and personal. Unlike most historical works of art and architecture, you can actually touch the windows, stick your fingers through the openings and imagine so many people before you doing the same. Then again, four hundred years of germs.

The Bridge of Sighs at the Doge's Palace in Venice, Italy.
Prisoners got one last peek of the canals of Venice from the Bridge of Sighs.

Back out in St. Mark's Square, the sun was just starting to set, washing everything in a lovely golden glow. There aren't a lot of green spaces on the island, but there's a hidden gem of a garden near the entrance to the Square, opposite of the Doge's Palace. It's small, with just a few benches. But if you can snag one, there's some prime people watching (I spied a regiment of astonishingly handsome Italian officers.) It's a lovely place to take a breather. After the palace, you'll need one.

A group of Italian officers await some action near St. Mark's Square in Venice.
The entrance arcade to the Doge's Palace in Venice, Italy.
Europe's Drawing Room, aka, St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy.
The St. Mark's Campanile in Venice at sunset.

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