Three Days in Venice – Day 2

The Doges Palace 

It’s 6:15 AM – a broom knocks a soda can down the alley. A crescent moon hangs above the terra cotta tile rooftops. At 7 AM the church bells begin. We start our day at 7:30.

The sunrise is kissing the brick and water-color buildings. Marie points up to several rooftop gardens, noting the absence of plantings at street level. We buy blood oranges and croissants, and I have my first Italian expresso “at the bar”. Starbucks should hang its head in shame…

The other couple has arrived, and Payne and Marie go to meet them, leaving me to my own devices. I head to the Palazzo Ducale, originally built in the 9th century but most of what you see now dates to the 1300’s. As with much of Venice, much is reconstructed from original pieces due to losses from several fires between 976 and 1577.

Here’s an ornately carved black gondola with an enclosed seat, which would have provided privacy to the Doge on his excursions. The sheer amount of sculpture in the courtyard is remarkable. The most impressive section of the courtyard is the Foscari Arch, dating from the late 15th century.

The Foscali Arch. I was eye level with the roof as I stood on the balcony of the Doge’s apartments.

On the balcony there’s a lion face relief on the wall, with a mail slot for a mouth, above a carved placard that read “Denontie Secrete Inmaterie Distato”. It was the receiving box for secret notes from citizens turning in other citizens for transgressions, although the local magistrates rarely took action on these accusations

“Complaint box” at the Doge’s Palace (scanned from a guidebook)

I enter the palace via the Scala d’Oro…the Golden Staircase named for the 24-carat gold leaf covering the arched, stucco ceiling, dating to the mid 16th century. At the top of the staircase began the Doge’s apartments, first the public rooms, and then the private ones. There are no furnishings; each doge was expected to provide his own, and upon his death, the furnishings were returned to his heirs.

Scala d’Oro…the Golden Staircase

The first room, a reception chamber, was filled with maps (the originals dated to the late 15th century), and two 6-foot globes in pedestals (18th century), meant to underscore the importance of Venice as a world power. The fireplace here is wrapped in scaffolding. I turn the corner into the next room, where I inadvertently ‘transport’ an Italian couple when they turn to see me in period costume…

The next floor houses the chambers of government. Incredibly lavish, every single surface of every room, ornamented with paint, gold, fresco. My favorites were the Senate Room and the immense Legislature Room; at 175 x 80 feet, it’s the largest room unsupported by columns in Europe. My least favorite room was the Tribunals of Forty, where justice was meted out. It smelled different from the rest and was one of the last rooms an accused person would stand in before crossing over the Bridge of Sighs.

The Sala dei Maggior Consiglio, the football field-sized room where the Venetian Legislature met. (Scanned from a guidebook)

The Armory displays weaponry dating back to the 14th century. Fully armored horses are behind glass in a corner. Two sets of 15th century tournament armor, and a child-size set child’s recovered from a battlefield in 1515. A pair of exquisite Turkish recurve bows, 17th century guns, and an ornate bronze canon whose barrel could only facilitate a 2″ ball.

From there, you walk over the Bridge of Sighs, built in 1602 but named in the 19th century because it was the last view of Venice a prisoner would have before being locked into a cell for the rest of his life. The cells were considered more humane than most, but the low, arched ceilings, and lack of both window and furniture, would have driven me insane within hours. It remained an active prison up into the 1930’s.

The Bridge of Sighs, as it would have appeared had it not been wrapped for construction. (This photo is scanned from a guidebook)

The museum store is woefully inadequate, and I’m incensed at the lack of photos of the Armory in the museum catalog. The art in apartments are not in the guide books either, which is really unfortunate since I was looking for a photo of the tryptich of Mary in 13th century garb, crucified, with men in gothic plate armor fainted away at the foot of her cross…

Out on the second story balcony. I stand at the top of the staircase and the place where the Doge was crowned. It is flanked on either side by statues of Mars and Neptune, installed in the mid-16th century. And I start to laugh. The butts of both Mars and Neptune are at eye-level – mooning the Doge during some of his most important ceremonies. I wonder if the placement of the statues was politically motivated…

Me, at the base of the Scala dei Gigante,
the top is where the Doge was crowned.

What a maze this place is! After two hours of being lost, I find the Basilica but the line is too long, so I go shopping. But the rings here are all too small, so I decide to continue that trek in Florence. I return to the Basilica, now 4 PM and too close to closing time to do the site justice. I head back to the apartment but spend the next several hours lost, without a working phone.

You cannot walk more than 20 feet without crossing a bridge.
The UPS and other delivery people had customized handtrucks to help then navigate the stairs.

It’s dark and the costumes have now come out. Two little girls are having a confetti fight as their parents look on. As I pass by, I get pelted in the face and a piece of confetti catches an edge in my eye. Great. Now I am lost -and- blind…

It is now completely dark. I suddenly remember that the vaporetto will take me directly back to San Angelo. I arrive at the dock just as a boat arrives, and realize that I am now seeing the rest of the Grand Canal. A gondola loaded with passengers, has its hull completely covered with white twinkle lights. I watch a couple get the famous 30Euro per person fine for failing to buy a vaporetto ticket.

  • Travel tip: I later learn that a lot of people get lost here, even the locals…so if you are planning a trip here, book an additional day or two so you factor in that time-loss.
A pair of ornate (and expensive to rent) gondolas

Payne and Marie decide that I am not allowed out on my own for the rest of my stay here. Tomorrow morning, Marie and I will tour the Basilica and then go shopping after. I’m still looking for writing papers and the elusive ring…

This is an excerpt from my original travel journal. For the full text which includes historical notes and travel tips, please visit AugustPhoenixHats.com.


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