All of the people arriving to Venice are probably planning to visit one of city’s beautiful palazzi. But what are their expectations? What do those palaces have to offer? Which palace among the others is worthy a visit? Or simply, while in Venice, why should you visit a Palazzo?
Let’s start by saying that not all palaces are the same: a palazzo was the dwelling of a noble family, the Palazzo, or the Doge’s Palace, was the seat of the government of the Serenissima. Towards the fall of the Republic there were almost 300 noble ‘clans’, usually composed of several branches with the same surname, so you can imagine how many palaces there are in Venice: each neighbourhood in the city was under protection of a specific noble family and that’s why, while walking through Venice, you can always find one of those charming residences just around the corner.
In Venice, if you say “il Palazzo” you always mean the Doge’s Palace on St. Mark’s Square.
The Palace is a magnificent gothic building facing both the Square and the Basin in front. Usually itsfunction is completely misunderstood by visitors, even if that is not only their fault: generally the Palace is presented as a place where the Duke or Prince of Venice used to live. That is true, but it is not the only purpose the Palace had.
The fact is that the Doge was the elected ruler of an aristocratic republic, a role that we might compare with contemporary constitutional monarch. The Doge was of course of aristocratic lineage, but his position was not dynastic but political. So, as a member of venetian government, he had to live in the Palace, sharing the space with other administrative or governmental offices.
If you are going to visit it, you should know that what you are going to see is not opulent pieces of furniture, luxurious State Bedrooms, Apartments and Ball Halls, but instead the Great Council Hall, the State Inquisitors Court and prisons. Not understanding this, is like expecting to visit something similar to Versailles Palace but ending up in empty Westminster Houses of Parliament. It is not bad, it is just something you were not looking for.
Doge’s Palace main feature is probably the magniloquent ceilings of the State Chambers: those are all decorated with large paintings on canvas by major ancient masters set in marvellously carved golden frames. The Great Council Hall is a vast, overwhelming space where members of Parliament used to seat in front of the Doge’s throne.
The ceiling is decorated with pompous and powerful ‘Glory of Venice’ by Veronese, probably the most capable painter in showing the immense fortune and appealing delights of Venice.
If you are more interested in lifestyle and feel more inclined to visit aristocratic mansions, there are better places for you in Venice.
Most beautiful palaces are facing the Grand Canal. Ca’ Rezzonico, close to the Accademia Bridge, is probably the most famous one. Ca’ Rezzonico is an impressive baroque building, erected for the newly-knighted Rezzonico family.
They were rich silk traders and bankers, and thanks to that, they bought venetian noble title and one of them had even become Pope. Rezzonicos were in need of showing the rest of the world that they deserved such social position, because greatness and nobility were written in their destiny. The palace holds a unique collection of 18th century venetian furniture, with a complete noble lady bedroom and boudoir. Inside you will find one of the most beautiful glass chandeliers ever produced in Murano: this piece was so beautifully made, that a specific style of decorating Murano glass is still named after it. Many rooms are frescoed by Tiepolo, the most internationally acclaimed artist of the 18th century Venice.
Lovers of Royal Palaces will not get disappointed in Venice. In fact, we do have a Royal Palace, it is also on St. Mark’s Square and, believe it or not, it is not the Doge’s Palace. Confusing, isn’t it? In front of the Basilica, on the opposite side of the square, Napoleon built his own Royal Palace in Venice.
After Napoleon’s fall, that palace has become Austrian emperor Franz Joseph and empress Sissi’s home in the city. It held that function until the end of Italian Kingdom in 1946, and today it is the Museum Correr. There you can walk through Imperial Apartments, all decorated in Neoclassical fashion during the 19th century: out of the window you can enjoy the beautiful view of St. Mark’s Basin and Royal Gardens.