Monday, 11 November 2013

Venice Day 5 - Doge's Palace and Basilica San Marco

With the Biennale behind me it as time to see arguably Venice's top two sights, if you don't include the Grand Canal which you can't miss.

Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)

This maybe yet another collection of grand staircases and ceilings but it builds continuously through the trip getting better with each room, from the ornate courtyard, to the magnificent golden staircase, the marvellous Veronese ceiling in the Council Chambers. After all this we end up in the Senate chamber where Tintoretto's Triumph of Venice adorns the ceiling but is superseded by a wall painting of the dead Christ adored by Doges of Venice - propaganda doesn't get any better than this!

Just as you think it can't get better, I was hit by the colossal Great Council Chamber that is a massive sensory overload with paintings of battles and religious scenes all over the walls and ceilings of this huge room. The most famous is Tintoretto's Paradise - not his greatest work but reputed to be the largest oil painting in existence.

The previous room had an interesting history lesson of how he, Veronese and Bassano competed to paint it. Veronese won the commission but died before he could start so it was passed to Tintoretto.

The next room has some magnificent Tintoretto's including a battle scene with hundreds of arrows raining down and being launched.

It's not just art and gold lined ceilings as a tour of the prisons is lengthy and the bridge of sighs is not much to look at but the concept of seeing the bright blue lagoon one last time before being locked into a dark cell is moving.

The cost to enter the palace is a little pricey at 16 euros but it's comprehensive, very well laid out and grants free access to the Museo Correr.

Museo Correr complex

This is essentially four museums thrown into one, Royal Palace, Venetian history, fine art and ancient sculpture.

The Royal Palace is much newer than the Doge's across the square so feels very similar to palaces across much of Europe and the stately Victorian homes in the UK. Not to say it isn't impressive but is similar to much of what I've seen before, the one major distinction is the use of Murano glass chandeliers in many of the rooms that gives them a Venetian touch.

The Venetian history was the most interesting to me as I knew very little about it. The fine art was very good but will always pale when compared to the collection at the Accademia.

The ancient sculptures were very similar to those I'd already seen in Rome and Florence. A nice touch was to include some Biennale contemporary art amongst the ancient artefacts. One particularly clever installation was a circle of Bin Laden heads by Wang Du that face off against the far older busts surrounding it.

Basilica San Marco

The outside and inside of the church is quite spectacular with the gold inlaid domes but it feels much more commercialised than the other churches I've seen, possibility out of the necessity of huge volumes of foot traffic.

There is no natural point to stop and though it's free entry there are charges for other sights including the treasury, the museum and a gold screen that has purposefully been turned away from facing the centre of the church so people have to pay to see it.

Impressive though it was, I never felt the awe of just sitting in wonderment and gazing at altars at my leisure, like I've done at some of the other Venetian churches.

Finally I took a lift to the top of the bell tower to get a view across Venice, but as it's the highest point and exposed I was constantly buffeted by winds so took my photos quickly and went back down.

That brings Venice to a close as I fly out tomorrow. Hope those who read this found it enjoyable and useful. I shall aim to summarise the trip when back in the UK.

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