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Palazzo Ducale Courtyard A
Basilica San Marco B
Riva degli Schiavone C
Piazzetta D

West Elevation Palazzo Ducale from Piazzetta and showing Riva degli Schiavone

Exterior East Eelevation --Canal side wall

Courtyard looking north towards Basilica San Marco

Photo Palazzo Ducale 
North Courtyard Wall 

Courtyard East Wing Facade after 1483 -- looking east

View looking south showing the southwest corner of the courtyard.

The Bridge of Sighs


John Singer Sargent

Interior of Dodge's Palace 

Giovanni Bellini 
(c.1430 - 1516) Venetian painter

Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan
Oil on panel
 61.5 x 45 cm
National Gallery, London



Palazzo Ducale

In large part from Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition: 

The Palazzo Ducale was the grandest of the grand palaces and was the home of the doge -- the ruler and the seat of power for the Republic of Venice. The building, as it stands today, comes from radical changing during the 14th and 16th century.

Venice actually started as a province of the Roman Empire. But after its fall, it left a vacuum, the people exposed and vulnerable to northern invaders. In the 6th cent. refugees fled to the uninhabited islands where they organized themselves into a small republic (697 AD) under a doge [from Lat. dux=leader]. The islands afforded a natural protection and made invasion from outsiders difficult. Essentially left alone, the community flourished and by the 9th cent. they had formed the city of Venice. 

Their livelihood was the sea and by the 10th cent. they controlled most of the Adriatic. From this they began to build an eastern empire, obtaining trade and other privileges in the ports of the eastern Mediterranean. During this time the influence of the Middle East, such as Byzantium, began to have an impact on Venetian art and architecture.

In 1204 the doge, Enrico Dandolo, led the Fourth Crusade in defeating Constantinople. Strategic points in the Ionian, the Aegean, and the east Mediterranean were taken. Marco Polo, traveled to China in the 13th  cent. and others would follow.

By 1380, Venice was queen of the seas and the city was becoming more wealthy, in comparison, than anything we can possibly imagine. Every bit of trade coming from the east had to go through Venice; and every bit of trade paid a hefty tariff with a portion of that going to the doge. All citizens shared in the prosperity, but principle merchant families  began to build wealthy empires within empires through political privileges, and setting up palaces along the Grand Canal .

In short order the doge was selected, not from the general public, but from membership in The Great Council and the empire was ruled by oligarchy.

In 1310, a plot against the oligarchy was averted, but in its wake, a Council of Ten was established to smoke out "crimes against the state". The Ten, by means of a formidable secret police, acquired increasing power, and the doge became a figurehead.

By the 15th cent. Venice reached the height of its power. The city engaged in a rich trade, especially as the main link between Europe and Asia. No one could challenge Venice's fleet of war ships. And the doge's palace -- Palazzo Ducale -- was the center of world economic power.

The decline of Venice began with the fall  of Constantinople to the Turks (1453), which greatly reduced trade with the Levant; the discovery of America by Columbas (1492); and the sea route to Asia, past Venice, around Africa by the Cape of Good Hope (1488) all slowly transferred commercial power to Spain and other nations to the west of Italy. 

The effects were not felt immediately. However, the seed of decline was planted. In 1797, the republic of Venice fell to Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1807, the Basilica San Marco was opened to the public.  Ever since, the very corridors and courtyards of the Palazzo Ducale, the echoed footsteps of the Council of Ten, the inner most sanctum of the most powerful have been under constant invasion by tourists with cameras . . . 

And God bless every one of them -- especially the ones that put their pics on the net.



By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2003 all rights reserved
Created 10/18/2000