Until 1797, the Doges ruled the Venetian Empire and the Palazzo Ducale was where they ruled from. A Venetian Gothic fantasy palace, it was one of the first things those arriving in Venice saw as their ships sailed through the lagoon and landed at St Mark’s Square. The Doges lived here, where the government offices were also housed and justice was meted out. The Golden Book, listing all of Venice’s important families and upholding the fact that only those listed in the book could be made Doge, was kept in the palace as well. It was an extremely political process ruling Venice, and residents were able to accuse others of wrongdoing by anonymously slipping a note into the Mouth of Truth.
Inside the palace is wonderful art (paintings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese), majestic staircases, the Doge’s apartments and the prison cells, while outside sits the Bridge of Sighs and beautiful differing columns along the piazzetta. Death sentences were declared between the ninth and 10th columns, while executions were carried out between the freestanding ones in the piazzetta next to the lagoon; even today Venetians won’t walk between them. A final chance at life was offered if the accused were able to walk around the edge of the third column on the seaward side of the palace. Travelers are welcome to try, although not one person ever succeeded.