We left our hotel in the Dorsoduro area and headed for Piazza San Marco and Doge's Palace. There is no walking directly to your destination when you're in Venice. You must stroll, leisurely, looking up and down the alleys, weaving in and out of the shops and catching the eyes and smiles of the passing Italian men and women. It's hard to imagine living in this magical place, having to be anywhere quickly. As a tourist it's so easy to get lost, as the alleys all start to look the same. But this is what the locals do everyday, and they don't stroll. They walked with purpose; it was Monday morning and they were all on their way to work.
As we made our way to Piazza San Marco, we crossed at Ponte de l'Accademia, where we took our morning pictures and watched the water taxis go about their morning. I could have stayed here for hours just watching the boats, listening to everyone speaking Italian and daydreaming about living here one day. (My Dream Bigger Dream is to live in Italy one day. I don't know how, or when, but someday...)
We passed Chiesa di Santa Maria del Giglio, founded in the 9th century. It is located at Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo, west of the Piazza San Marco. It was rebuilt between 1678 and 1681 and is believed to have one of the finest Baroque Venetian facades in all of Venice.
Chiesa di Santa Maria del Giglio. Venice, Italy. All rights reserved. Shannon Whaley
We continued to stroll through the alleys, always finding picturesque store fronts and beautiful artwork.
We eventually made our way to Piazza San Marco. The pigeons, as well as the men who hand you pigeon food, were quite aggressive. I had to say "No" several times as they grabbed my hand to put seed in it so as to attract the flying rats to sit on my arm, and god forbid, on my head. I scared my travel buddy by yelling, but it seemed to be the only way the men would understand I was serious. My "no" was not taken seriously, which was annoying and actually quite alarming. If you're not interested in having the birds land on you, don't make eye contact with anyone that has bird seed.
St. Mark's Plaza is the central public square in all of Venice. When you see any movie with Venice as the backdrop, this large space is what you see. Massive amounts of pigeons with just as many people, and the most magnificent arches and marble decorations. In the 800's relics of St. Mark were brought from Alexandria and housed in the palace until the Venetians completed a church dedicated to their new patron Saint. Fires, new rulers, crusades, new tastes and Napolean helped to shape the Plaza into what it is today. Venice is so rich in history and culture, a history book and a few shots of espresso are the only way to learn more about this beautiful city. Or Wikipedia.
We gathered for our tour of Doge's Palace outside of the MUVE office, Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, located just inside the corridors, near the bathrooms. There are several tours to choose from, such as the Secret Itineraries Tour and the Hidden Doge's Treasure Tour. The Secret Itineraries tour was chosen for us, as we were part of the Pink Pangea Travel Writers retreat, so we proceeded with our tour guide. The Secret Tour is not for the claustrophobic or hungover, as it got very small and very hot, very quickly. We started at street level, where the prison was located, and wound our way up the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace).
We started at the staircase at the bottom and worked our way up to the very top floor!
What I learned on the tour: the upper mezzanino is where all of the secret documents were kept. Venetians would come to the Palace and tell on each other, stories of witchcraft and treason. I'd show you more pictures but our very sour tour guide scolded me, loudly, several times as there were no pictures allowed. (It was really unfortunate that she ended up being the rudest person I met on the trip and it was evident that she did not enjoy her job anymore.)
This is the torture chamber where prisoners were convinced to confess to crimes they may or may not have committed. The were tied up with their arms behind their backs and lifted up. Three judges asked them questions in the dark, and people watched from the sidelines. Prisoners were waiting in the chambers behind closed doors and could hear the prisoners being tortured.
Public executions were carried out in St. Mark's Piazzeta, hangings and beheadings of murderers, child abusers, crimes against the state and religion, even crimes against the environment, like dropping trash and polluting the lagoon waters.
As we made our way up the staircase, we were informed that rich prisoners had separate quarters. Political prisoners and the most famous prisoner of all, Giacomo Casanova, were held here. I'm convinced the tour guide was related to this man, as this was the focus of the rest of the tour. We learned all about his womanizing ways, his false imprisonment, and subsequent escape from jail. I'm sure this exceptionally large government building had much more importance than some hot shot Italian stallion escaping, but apparently our guide didn't think that was of any importance. Any real information I have about Doge's Palace is from research that I have done on my own, in my hotel room and once I was back home. The best part of the tour was when we were left on our own to explore the artwork and enjoy the paintings in silence.
It.Was.Magnificent!! The most brilliant colors I've seen. There are no words to speak of to describe what you are seeing. We were all in complete awe. The largeness and stillness of it all, imagining what has taken place in these rooms. These are the moments when you feel small, when you realize there is so much in this world that you will never see, but will try your damnedest to soak up as much as you possibly can in this lifetime.
Unfortunately I did not leave this tour with a reputable recommendation. I love passing along names and phone numbers of guides that have treated me well and have been of great value. When I return to Venice, I will be asking for recommendations for tour guides that will blow my mind and enrich my experience. If you know of that person, I would love to hear from you!! I know the power of word-of-mouth and would love to have a contact person in Venice to refer people to once I've experienced their tour.
As we waited in line for the bathroom, this seemed to make things a little better...