Thursday, November 8, 2007

Secret Itineraries

Yesterday I visited the Doges Palace again. Again because I think I have been there no less than 6 times already. But this time, I took a different tour--the Secret Itineraries. I dont have any pictures to show you because they werent allowed (i.e. it would no longer be a secret then, would it?!).

Basically, the tour was to show several of the secret back rooms used by the government of Venice during her day. 110 of the 120 Doges (kings) lived in the Palace as well as it being the seat of government for that time. Venetian government was a bit avant garde for the time. They strived for many democratic features and to avoid at all costs a monarchy or a family line in rule. The Doge was followed constantly by 6 men who represented the 6 districts in Venice. Then there were the Council of 10 who had final decisions on much of the activity that happened in Venice. And beneath them were a plethora of senators, ambassadors, informants, military, etc. But until the 16th century, they werent above torture and had some pretty elaborate secret prisons for their use. If you ever want to read more detail (in a not so boring history book), try reading The History of Venice by John Norwich.

Back to the tour. We saw the archive rooms and general offices and prisons built in between floors (as a side, there are many building and palaces here in Venice that have floors built between floors---interesting---I always think of that movie Being John Malkovich where everyone worked on the 9 1/2 floor). The two most interesting things were the prisons in between the top floor and the roof/rafters and the actual attic.

The prisons on this half floor were called Piombi. This is where Casanova was held for 15 months before he escaped (you can read his memoirs for the details of that story). Others did escape during the history of the Palace but apparently no one bothered to write the details like Casanova.

The other interesting visit was the actual attic/rafters of the Palace. Being up there walking on the boards and buttresses that are basically supporting this building from the 1400's is amazing. Its chaotic up there with boards and wooden pillars in all directions and yet there is some sense of order. Its an architects and builders dream to see that. The wood is from the 'lurch' tree up by Cortina (one of my favorite places to visit). They were very careful to replant those forests as they used them up (think of all the wood they used to build the city and to provide the supports under the island-whew!). Once cut, the wood was treated in salt water and then allowed to dry. This provided a protection against any pests that would eat wood and so they still stand and support to this day. Amazing.

Was the tour worth 16 euros (12 for the price of the Palace and an extra 4 for the tour)? Perhaps, if it is your first time and you visit the rest of the Palace afterwards. I am not disappointed I went but once is probably enough for this one!

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