Initially built as a fortified castle in the IX century, it was transformed under the Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-1178) into the residence of the Doges, also the Minor and Major Councils and some offices of the magistracy. Destroyed by fire the palace was rebuilt in the external part in the XIV and XV centuries. The designers broke with tradition, laying the whole palace in Verona marble on arches in Istrian stone.
The two facades, which give onto the wharf and the little square, are 70 metres; they have a few arched windows flanked by precious balconies from the beginning of the 1400s (Dalle Masegne) and of 1536 (Scarpagnino and Sansovino). From the ninth arch of the loggia of the façade, which gives onto the square and can be distinguished by the red colour of its marble, death sentences were pronounced.
Going through the Porta della Carta (XV century), you go into the palace through the Foscari Arch, which is in front of the Scala dei Giganti with colossal statues of Neptune and Mars by Sansovino (1567). Behind the statues the coronation ceremony of the Doges was held. Inside, is the Scala dei Censori and the Scala d'Oro begun in 1549 by Sansovino; it was reserved for the Magistrates and illustrious figures to pass through.
The Duke's apartment on the first floor is also worth seeing, it was rebuilt after the fire of 1483. The rooms of the Palace and the richly decorated atriums are arranged on three floors and it's advisable to follow a guide to steer you through so many marvellous works of art.
We recommend a fascinating but little known itinerary called "the secret passages" which takes you behind the scenes of the palace to the offices and atrium of the Chancellor, to the room of the three State Inquisitors, to the Torture Chamber and the prisons. It was from these cells that Casanova made his spectacular escape in 1755.