The Doge’s CIA and Losing St. Mark
VENICE DAY 2 This was our day dedicated to St. Mark’s Square. The day before had just been exploring and getting a sense of the place. Here's where you can see how few pigeons frequent the square today.
In the morning, we toured the Doge's Palace. Doge is loosely translated as duke in English and the Doge, the ruler of Venice, was elected by a body of Venetians - wealthy men over 25 years of age. The Doge then served until death.
From the frothy palace with its stairway of 24 karat gold (called Scala d'Or) we were guided through a locked door for our Secret Itineraries tour, which was quite good. It wasn’t as full of torture chambers as I’d expected, but I learned a lot about Venetian politics and the Venetian version of the CIA: the Council of Ten also known as CX. (Love that, don't you? Major story possibilities...) The Council of Ten supervised spies and was led by an appointed director who was paid a great sum of money so that he might be incorruptible. If Venetian secrets were leaked, the buck stopped with him and he would lose his head. Literally.
See the guy below with Princess Leia sort of head gear? He wasn't just a pretty face. He was a letterbox for complaints and accusations. Citizens placed their accusations in the mouth and the Doge's staff read and acted on them. If someone was found to falsely accuse another, he would be subject to the punishment of the alleged crime. The second photo features the kids in the hallway of prison cells. In the next photo, that tiny covered bridge leads from the palace to the prisons. Called the bridge of sighs, it would have offered prisoners their last glimpse of Venice before being placed in their cells.
The weather was turning bad with rain off and on so we ducked into a jovially packed bar that looked about 200 years old, if it was a day and chowed down on an odd assortment of Italian sandwiches. (The sandwiches themselves weren't odd, but the selections we made were all over the place.)
Next, we toured St. Mark's Basilica. Apparently, St. Mark (of gospel fame) was buried in muslim-occupied Egypt and sometime around 828 A.D, two Venetians appropriated the body of St. Mark and brought it to the Doge in Venice. Then construction began for a basilica suitable to the burial place of a saint. (I think I have this right, but don’t base your term paper on it.) During the long construction of the church, however, they lost track of St. Mark's remains. There is a mosaic in the church that depicts the entire town of Venice praying for the recovery of the bones. They were found in a hollow column in the church and were then buried beneath the altar, where they remain today. (Unless someone else decided that poor old Mark should be resting somewhere else.) It is St. Mark's symbol of the winged lion that decorates pillars, monuments and churches throughout the city.
St. Mark’s Basilica was my favorite. I know, I know, nothing beats the opulence of St. Peter’s, but I preferred the Eastern sensibility of St. Mark’s. The golden mosaics glow in the dim light and dome after dome features new images. The church layout is based on the Greek cross, which features arms of equal length on all sides allowing the entire cross to fit into a circle, representing the world and all of its elements.
After a rejuvenating break at the hotel, we ventured out in the rain for dinner at a restaurant we’d scouted out the day before. We were rewarded with a warm welcome from the owner and the best dinner I’d had since our arrival in Italy. We swore we’d return for at least another meal. (Of course that didn’t happen, but it had more to do with bad weather than anything else.)