If you imagine landing in Venice from the sea, as did those who came inland by ship, the first thing you see rising out of the water is the unmistakable shape of the Doge's Palace - the city's most famous building.
The Palace is the most representative symbol of Venice's culture, which, together with the Basilica of San Marco at the back and the Piazzetta in the forefront, forms of the most famous sceneries in the world.
For centuries the Doge's Palace had three fundamental roles: as the Doge residence, the seat of government and as the palace of justice. This was where some of the most important decisions for Venice's, and even Europe's destiny were taken.
Initially, when it was built in the IX century A.D. it was more like a castle than a palace with four sighting towers and high defensive walls. In fact, it was in a strategic position controlling the city, near to its sea access. Later, due to a series of fires and subsequent rebuilding, it became what we can see today - a splendid example of Venetian gothic architecture.
This imposing building has the one feature typical of Venetian architecture: lightness. Despite its considerable size, the multi-coloured façade decorations and the splendid perforation of the Gothic loggias, like stone lace, give us an elegant structure that isn't heavy in appearance.
There is also a real architectural "find": compared to most medieval palaces all over Italy, the Doge's Palace was built in the opposite way with the loggias down below and full walls above, whereas buildings like this normally had a huge base to make them easier to defend.
In Venice the state Palace had to be an expression of the Republic's special relationship with its citizens: one of trust and absolute fidelity. Venetians considered their government as legitimate not by imposition or divine right, like in other Italian medieval cities, but as an expression of the Venetians' will.
The portico is already a special place, a masterpiece within an even bigger masterpiece: the thirty-six stone capitals on their arches are a marvellous example of medieval sculpture and give us a rich repertoire of symbolic figures: vice and virtue, saints, martyrs, knights, trades, birds and signs of the zodiac.
From these arches the Doge watched public executions in the square and under the ninth arch, the one that stands out for the red of its marble, death sentences were announced.
The internal courtyard of the Doge's Palace is reached through the monumental Porta della Carta, on the Piazzetta di San Marco.
As on the outside, the facades indicate the double motive of the portico on the lower floors and of the walls with wide windows on the higher part. The architecture, which matches the marble loggia to the bricks of the masonry, manages to create a language that is both simple and ornate, the perfect expression of the spirit of the Republic.
This palace was a highly functional building and each element had a precise purpose.
Starting from the Giant's Staircase in the Courtyard, so-called because of two huge statues of Mars and Neptune at the top symbolizing the Republic's authority over land and sea, is the work of Sansovino: it was here that the Doge's crowning took place, an important happening for Venice, celebrated with great pomp.
Climbing to the top the Doge received the doge's horn (corno ducale) and pronounced the Promissione, the promise, to defend and respect the Serenissima constitution for ever.