The Palazzo Ducale is without doubt one of the top must-visit attractions in Venice; once the residence of the Doge and the seat of government, it’s a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, full of vast stately rooms, monumental staircases and ornate painted hallways that conjure up the former magnificence of the Venetian Republic.
But to really get to grips with the history of this remarkable building, we highly recommend booking a place on the “Secret Itineraries Tour”, which takes you far from the usual visitor route, and allows you to discover some of the most hidden corners of the Palace, rich with history, secrets and intrigue.
Led by one of the museum’s expert guides, the tour will take you through a series of small, dank prison cells in the palace basement known as pozzi, or wells – where common criminals were once held before facing trial in the sinister court rooms above. Upstairs, you’ll be led through the macabre Torture Chamber, complete with a hanging stand and rope, and then up a further set of stairs into the top floor cells made famous by the notorious Venetian lothario Casanova, who escaped from the prisons in 1756. Other fascinating stops on the off-the-beaten track itinerary include the Hall of the Inquisitors (where you’ll encounter one of Tintoretto’s rarely-seen and completely unrestored masterpieces depicting The Prodigal Son), and the echoing Palace attics, where you’ll walk in the shadowy wooden eaves above famous Hall of the Great Council below.
Places on the daily tours are limited and often get booked up far in advance, so be sure to plan ahead to avoid disappointment.