Doge’s Palace, the Columns of Mark and Theodore and St. Mark’s Basin
The Doge’s Palace, the centre of Venetian power, residence of the Doge and home to the judiciary, this is where the governance of the city took place. Visually, it is the perfect example of Venetian gothic architecture, as Ruskin put it: the perfect fusion of East and West. What we see now is the third reconstruction of the Palace, dating back to the 14th century. The original nucleus was built in the year 828, just after the body of Saint Mark’s had been transported into the city from Alexandria; the building was then rebuilt and expanded in the early 12th century.
Unlike all other seats of ruling power, like fortresses and castles, the Palazzo Ducale is not built for defensive purposes, but merely to achieve aesthetic beauty, such was Venice’s confidence that no one would ever come close to attack it. The imposing balcony you see facing the basin of Saint Mark was built in 1404, at the top of which stands the figure of Justice, the major symbol ruling over Venice.
The Columns of Mark and Theodore
This space with the two pillars is called Piazzetta San Marco – Piazzetta meaning Small Square – which represents a sort of entrance to the famous Piazza San Marco. On top of the pillars stand the two patrons Venice: the winged Lion representing Saint Mark and the might of the Venetian Republic, and Saint Theodore slaying the dragon, ancient protector of the city of Venice.
They arrived in Venice in the 11th century, but spent over a century lying on the ground because no one really knew how to erect them due to their weight and size. It was only in 1172 that an engineer called Nicolò Barattieri had the idea of repeatedly wetting the hemp ropes tied to the pillars with water, which would then shrink and tighten, thus heaving them up to how we see them today. As a personal reward, the city allowed Barattieri to practice gambling in the space between the two columns, gambling being strictly illegal anywhere else in the city. After his death, the space between the pillars became the venue of gruesome public executions, as a warning to the population.
St. Mark’s Basin
Looking out to the water is the St. Mark’s Basin. From here you’ll see the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, with its beautiful Renaissance Church built by Palladio in the Renaissance. The island was once known as the Island of Cypress Trees before it became an important Benedectine monastery.
Instead of the many vaporetti and taxis, until the 18th century here you would have seen thousands of merchandise ships heading for the Customs point to either drop off or stock up on goods. From this point thousands of painters from all over the world have tried to capture the unique panoramic it offers.
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