Gothic Venice
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  • Italy /
  • Venice

Indulge in a real aesthetic hunt of the beautiful Venetian Gothic style

Doge's Palace
(Paolo Chiabrando, Unsplash)
Front view of the palace (Daniele Barison, Unsplash)

(Paolo Chiabrando, Unsplash)

The Doge’s Palace is a masterpiece of Gothic art; it consists of three large buildings that incorporated and unified previous constructions: the wing facing St. Mark’s Basin (which contains the Hall of the Great Council) and which is the oldest, rebuilt starting in 1340; the wing facing the Square (formerly the Palace of Justice) with the Hall of the Scrutiny, the construction of which in its present form began in 1424; on the opposite side, the Renaissance wing, with the Doge’s residence and many government offices, rebuilt between 1483 and 1565. 

The entrance for the public to the Doge’s Palace is the Gate of the Wheat (so called because it led to the “Ufficio Delle Biade”).


By the 9th century Venice, favoured by its distance from Constantinople, gained greater autonomy. In 810, Doge Angelo Partecipazio moved the seat of government from the island of Malamocco to the area of Rivoalto (today’s Rialto) and decided to build the Doge’s Palace here. It is speculated that the model might have been Diocletian’s palace in Split, but no remains of the structures of the time have reached us, so we cannot know what form the ancient palace had (only remains of the fortifications and corner towers have survived). The crenellated layout that can be recognised in the earliest plan of Venice that has come down to us, the work of Friar Paulinus, is a sketchy evidence of this. In the 10th century, the palace was partially destroyed by fire and was rebuilt by Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-1178), who renovated the entire area of St. Mark’s Square. The old enclosed and fortified castle was replaced with a building more open to the city to adhere to the new needs of an expanding political, economic, and social structure. Only a few traces of this phase of construction have survived: a remnant of the Istrian plinth and the herringbone terracotta floors. At the end of the 13th century, a new palace extension became necessary because, due to political changes, the number of people entitled to participate in the legislative assembly had significantly increased.

Work began in 1340 under Doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo (1339 – 1343) and involved the building toward the pier. Only in 1424, under Doge Francesco Foscari (1423 – 1457), it was decided to continue the renovation work in the wing towards the Piazzetta, the one intended for the “Palace of Justice.” The new building is configured as a continuation of the ” Government Palace “: on the ground floor, it has an entrance on the outside and on the second floor, open loggias, also on the side facing the courtyard. On the same level as the hall of the Great Council, there is a vast hall known as the Library (later the Scrutiny). The large windows and pinnacle crowning take up the same decorative motifs that characterise the facade on the pier. The facade of the small square was completed with the construction of the Paper Gate (1438 – 1442) by Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon. Beginning with the Paper Gate, construction work began on the Foscari’s entrance, which lasted for several years and was completed under Doge Giovanni Mocenigo (1478 – 1485). 

In 1483 a major fire broke out in the side of the palace facing the canal, which housed the Doge’s Apartment. Major works were thus necessary, entrusted to Antonio Rizzo, Pietro Lombardo, and Antonio Abbondi “lo Scarpagnino.” A new building was constructed on this side, with the main body rising along the Rio, from the Bridge of the Parsonage to the Bridge of Straw. To this period date the sculptural decoration of the facade and the Giant’s Staircase. However, in 1574 another fire destroyed this wing, damaging in particular the Hall of the Four Gates, the Anti-Collegium, the College and the Senate, fortunately without affecting the load-bearing structures. Restoration of the wooden parts and decorative apparatus was immediately undertaken. In 1577 another devastating fire involved the Hall of the Scrutiny and the Hall of the Great Council, irreparably destroying the paintings that decorated them, works by artists including Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello, Alvise Vivarini, Carpaccio, Bellini, Pordenone, and Titian. Restoration of the building’s structures quickly proceeded, preserving its original appearance. 

Originally, the palace housed not only the government and the court, but also the prisons, which were renovated with the construction of the New Prisons in the second half of the 16th century by order of Antonio da Ponte and by Antonio Contin; they were connected to the palace by the Bridge of Sighs. The relocation of the prisons freed up space on the ground floor of the Ducal Palace and allowed for the renovation of the courtyard area in the early 17th century. A porch, similar to that of the Renaissance facade facing it, is built in the part of the courtyard-facing courthouse; in addition, on the side of the courtyard opposite the wing on the pier, next to the Foscari arch, an additional arched marble facade was erected, surmounted by a clock (1615). 

In 1797 the Venetian republic fell, and French and Austrian rule followed until the annexation to Italy in 1866. The palace became the seat of various offices, as well as housing (from 1811 to 1904) the Marciana National Library and other important cultural institutions in the city. 

At the end of the 19th century, the building showed obvious signs of deterioration and its restoration was ordered.


1. The Venetian Gothic style

2. Ca’ Foscari

3. Giustinian Palace

4. Doge's Palace

5. Basilica of Saints John and Paul

6. Madonna dell’Orto Church

7. Basilca of Saint Mary The Glorious of the Frari