The Secret Itinerary through the Doge’s Palace covers the rooms and chambers where the delicate work of some of the most important bodies in the Venetian administration was carried out. The tour offers an interesting insight into the civil and political history of the city, its public organisations and administration of justice. The visit must be previously booked, and can only take place at certain times and conditions and in the company of a special tour guide who will explain all features of each individual room.
One starts in the rooms of the Ducal Notary and the Deputato alla Segreta. Interconnected, these lead into the Square Atrium. The Notary functioned as a sort of secretary to the various magistrature within the Republic, whilst the Deputato alla Segreta kept a special archive for the Council of Ten, containing reserved material. From here one passes up to the Office of the Great Chancellor, head of what today would be known as the General Archives. Due to the delicate nature of his work, this was the only public figure to be elected directly by the Great Council. This staircase leads to the large and beautiful Chamber of the Secret Chancellery, whose walls are lined with cabinets containing public and secret documents relating to the work of most of the Venetian magistrature. The mirrored upper doors are decorated with the coats-of-arms and names of the various chancellors appointed from 1268 onwards. Passing through the small room of the Deputy to the Chancellery one comes to the Torture Chamber, also known as the Chamber of Torment; this disturbing place is linked directly with the Prisons. The interrogations were held here in the presence of the judges, and the most commonly used instrument of torture was the rope, from which the suspect was suspended. Though torture was practised in Venice, it was not particularly savage or gruesome, and from the 17th century onwards it was gradually abandoned; by the 18th century it had practically been abolished altogether. From the Torture Chamber you pass to the so-called Piombi. The name comes from the lead [piombo] covering on the roof. These cells were used exclusively for the prisoners of the Council of Ten – either those accused of political crimes, those awaiting sentence or those serving short prison terms. Located directly under the roof, the 6 or 7 cells were formed of wooden partitions to which were nailed sheets of iron. Though so vividly described by Giacomo Casanova, the Piombi did in fact offer prisoners much better conditions than those in the pozzi (the wells), the terrible cells on the ground floor of the Doge’s Palace. Both, reconstructed, cells that were occupied by Casanova make up part of the tour. From the Piombi you pass directly under the roof to the attic located at the corner of the building between the waterfront and canal-side facades. This was the site of one of the corner towers of the much earlier castle occupied by the Doge. The cabinets contain a number of weapons, most of them 16th century. From this attic, two long flights of stairs bring one to the Chamber of the Inquisitors, a much-feared magistratura that was set up in 1539 to protect state secrets (its full title was Inquisitori alla propagazione dei segreti dello Stato). Two of the three inquisitors were chosen from the Council of Ten, the third from among the district councillors who attended upon the Doge. Required to be objective, efficient and competent in the performance of their duties, the Inquisitors had to maintain total secrecy with regard to any information they might discover during the course of their work – information they could obtain using all the means at their disposal, including resort to informers and torture. The ceiling is decorated with works by Tintoretto, painted in 1566-1567. From here one passes through to the Chamber of the Three Head Magistrates, chosen every month from amongst the members of the Council of Ten. They were responsible for preparing court cases and seeing that the Council rulings were carried out as quickly as possible (they themselves were responsible for assessing which should be given priority). The decoration of the ceiling dates from 1553-54. The octagonal central panel with The Victory of Virtue over Vice is the work of Giambattista Zelotti, whilst the side compartments are by Giambattista Ponchino and Paolo Veronese. Via a secret passageway within a wooden cabinet, the Chamber of the Three Head Magistrates is linked directly to the Chamber of the Council of Ten, from where one can go on to visit the rest of the Palace.