We just love tours of secret places – so we took the Secret Itineraries tour of the Doge Palace on St. Mark’s Square. We saw the majestic public rooms, along with the secret passageways behind those rooms. Come along with us!
For 11 centuries, Venice was an independent republic – up until the end of the 1700s, when they were overthrown by Napoleon. The Doge was the elected “king” of the republic and lived at the Doge Palace with his family. The Doge Palace was also the place where the equivalent of the Senate and House met and where the courtrooms and dungeons were. We saw it all.
Council of 10
Doge Palace was also the place where the Council of 10 met. This was a group of noblemen whose duty it was to mete out punishments to violators of the Republic’s rules. They did not deal in petty crimes, but more serious “crimes against the State” – kind of like a Venetian CIA. Anyone could report on anyone else by placing an accusation in a stone mouth (see below) located on the Palace walls. The Circle of 10 collected and investigated these complaints. They also decided the victim’s fate – many times, in a questionable manner (such as using torture to force a confession). You did not want to cross paths with the Council of 10.
One of the unlucky fellows who was brought before the Council was Casanova. He was a well-traveled man about town, who gambled with the gentlemen and paid much attention to the ladies (including wives and nuns!). Someone turned him in for some infraction, and the Council sentenced him to 5 years of prison without so much as a trial (probably led by one of the husbands). On our secret tour, we all gathered in his cell for his story.
Casanova was very clever and also very likable. He talked the guards into letting him stretch his legs in an office outside his cell, where he was able to secure objects to make a file. Then he made friends with a fellow prisoner – a monk – and was able to trade books (where they really wrote down their secret plot to escape). One night, they filed a hole in the ceiling and escaped through the attic to the roof. They waited there until everyone left and lowered themselves down into the hallway by the Council of 10 deliberation room and walked down the stairs. But the gate was locked. So they waited until morning and convinced the guard that they had accidentally gotten locked inside overnight. They ended up walking down the Palace’s famous Golden Staircase and basically out the front door. We traced his steps all through the attic, hallways, and down the Golden Staircase. Casanova and the monk split up and fled elsewhere in Europe. But about 20 years later, Casanova returned and was pardoned in exchange for becoming a spy for Venice. He wrote all of this down in his memoirs (a 30-volume set).
The Bridge of Sighs
Our final destination was the very famous Bridge of Sighs. Some say it is the most photographed picture in Venice from the outside. This was the bridge where prisoners walked across to face their death. They had one last look at the Lagoon and would “sigh” for what they would lose. We got to walk across the Bridge of Sighs on the INSIDE. Amazing.
We loved the art in Florence but have been fascinated by the history of Venice. America is such a young country by comparison. Can you imagine a republic so strong it lasted for 11 centuries and then was defeated? There certainly is a lot more to Venice than gondolas and Carnevale.