If you’re looking to buy a normal ticket to the Doge’s Palace, I would recommend that you go on the secret itineraries tour of the Doges Palace instead. It cost €28 for an adult ticket, which is much higher compared to the entrance fee for other attractions in Italy, like the Milan Cathedral. But through the tour, you can learn about the workings of the Doge’s Palace, and see places which are not opened to those who purchase the normal ticket at €25. As compared to the Secret Itineraries tour, the normal ticket gives you access to the St Mark’s Museum, which according to Google, looked quite ornate. But we preferred to have a guide and it was worth it. Here’s why you should do the Secret Itineraries tour of the Doges Palace in Venice. It will take about 1hr 30 mins.
5 reasons to take the Secret Itineraries tour of the Doges Palace in Venice
1. Our guide was knowledgeable and fun
Our guide was a Venetian lady who told us interesting facts and peppered the tour with jokes along the way. She started off at the square telling us about the big rooms in the palace, which are designated for voting and for political meetings of Venetian noblemen. At one point, one of the meeting rooms was the biggest in the whole of Europe.
Our guide also mentioned that it was difficult for local Venetians to continue staying in Venice due to the high cost of living. In addition, there is also a high cost involved to do restoration and repair works as workers will have to take a boat over. This explains why we saw plenty of empty homes when we ventured to a more local part of the island in the south-east. It was much more enjoyable listening to our guide as opposed to simply reading the short English descriptions of the paintings.
We learnt that the fall of Venice could be attributed to Napoleon, hence he is a figure not well-liked among Venetians.
2. We got to see Casanova’s cell and learn how he escaped
Giacomo Casanova is one of Venice’s most famous residents. He was known for his romantic liaisons with women from all walks of life, including nuns. Our guide explained that women were sent to be nuns back then out of poverty. For some, it was not of their choice. In the midst of saving them, Casanova had several affairs and was imprisoned for an affront to religion.
The subject of Casanova’s escape was a controversial one. It was said that during one of his walks, he found a metal spike which he brought with him back to his cell. He started digging a hole in the wall as a means of escape. But on the night before he planned his escape, he was moved to another holding cell, and had to bribe the warden of that time to cover up (the hole) literally. He was placed in another holding cell where he enlisted the help of his cellmate, Father Balbi, a renegade priest, to dig a hole for their escape.
While Casanova’s account is suspenseful, the guide said that it was to be taken with a pinch of salt, as there was no hole to be found when the cells were checked after his escape.
3. Political prisoners were left in the basement, which could flood during heavy rains
It is most unfortunate if you were convicted of treason back in those days. We were told that political prisoners, especially those who were about to be executed we placed in cells at the basement of the palace. As it rains frequently in Venice and floods often, the cells would be flooded and water levels could rise to one’s chest level. It was a dire situation especially if the cells were flooded and the prisoners had to share it with rats. According to our guide, rats outnumber the number of humans in Venice currently.
4. It is better to be a Chancellor than a Doge
We visited the Office of the Great Chancellor, who is said to be in charge of all the archival records in Venice. The Chancellors had a nice office with wooden beams supporting it. Apparently, it could get quite hot during the summer. That said, it was still much more spacious that the prison cells below. Our guide said that it was much better to be a Chancellor as compared to being a Doge, as the Doge was expected to furnish the palace with his own wealth. In comparison, the Chancellor knew all the secrets of the city, and as a result, was paid well. His appointment was for life and his office was also quite big, by standards in the past.
5. We learnt that a bridge built 500 years ago can be sturdier than one built 10 years ago
The Secret Itineraries tour led us to the attic where we could see the foundations of the palace, held steady by blocks of wood. It was then where our guide remarked that it was quite steady, as compared bridges which were built 10 years ago to serve incoming tourist traffic.
After the tour, we took a walk around the palace. The paintings and rooms in the Dodge’s Palace were impressive, decked in gold and paintings of epic battles. If the Cathedrals that we visited in Italy were meant to make people feel awe in a divine presence, the paintings and gold furnishings were meant to make guests feel impressed – it was almost intimidating. We particularly like the frescos on the floor, which were in the form of 3D shapes.
The Travelling Squid’s Take
For new visitors who are not familiar with Venice’s history, the Secret Itineraries tour will give you a glimpse into what was life in the past, away from the grandeur of the ceremonial halls. It was interesting to learn about how public servants were involved in the administration of Venetian governance, as well as experience the prison cells which used to hold people convicted of political crimes and Casanova.