The Doge's Palace was also where justice was administered and where the city's terrible prisons were to be found. It wasn't that difficult to end up in jail in Venice.
At times, a single anonymous accusation was enough to be arrested, slipped into the "Mouth for secret accusations", still visible in the Hall of the Compass. The last degree of justice was exercised by the most feared tribunal: The Council of the Ten. This Commission had exceptional powers and met in absolute secrecy in what is known as the Hall of the Council of the Ten.
The famous Piombi were housed in rooms under the roof. They owe their name to the slabs of lead that covered the roofs, making these rooms extremely hot in summer and ice-cold in winter. These rooms were in general, designated to upper-class inmates or to those awaiting trial.
The most famous guest of the Piombi was Giacomo Casanova, who ended up in prison after a long series of crimes and was the protagonist of the most famous and fantastical of escapes.
The Palace prisons were famous for being difficult to escape. However, someone did manage to demonstrate to the contrary. "As the day dawned on 26 July 1755, as the third bell rang, Messer Grande entered and told me he had to put me up in the Piombi".
These are the words of Giacomo Casanova, romantic hero and famous adventurer whose gestures were talked about all over the world and whose fame is inextricably linked to his legendary escape from the Venice Piombi.
Casanova was a man with special gifts: a legendary seducer, but also amateur scholar, actor and for a short period even abbot. When they put him in the Piombi he was twenty-nine and had already travelled the world. But it was only after his escape that his destiny turned to fame and riches.
His memoirs entitled "The story of my escape from the Piombi" were printed in 1788 and soon became the equivalent of a modern best-seller.
Casanova left the Piombi on the night between 31 October and 1 November 1756. Digging up the wooden planks with a makeshift tool he climbed out of his cell onto the roof and then down into an attic. Crossing the whole palace he reached the golden staircase where he was seen by a guard who mistook him for a politician who’d been locked in and let him out.
A legend says he stopped for a coffee in San Marco square before fleeing by sea on a gondola.
The New Prisons, rather, were found beyond the Palazzo river, and these were accessed across the famous Bridge of Sighs.