The Doge’s Palace is one of the most famous sights in Venice, but many don’t know that it is home to a secret attic prison known as the Piombi. A warren of corridors tucked under the palace roof, it once housed impenetrable prison cells and today is a fascinating hidden corner of Venice accessible only by private tour.
The Piombi attic prison is generally closed to the public, but many private "Secret Itineraries" tours of the Doge's Palace include these former cells along with the palace’s torture chamber, ducal administrative offices, and the Bridge of Sighs. These tours are open to a limited number of visitors and must be booked in advance; you can combine your visit of the hidden rooms in the Doge’s Palace with a skip-the-line tour of St. Mark's Basilica or a small-group walking tour of the highlights in and around St. Mark's Square.
The Piombi gets its name from the Italian word for lead, because the attic prison was topped by a lead-covered roof that made the cells both secure and notoriously uncomfortable, with extreme temperatures in summer and winter. Perhaps the most famous resident of the Piombi was legendary womanizer Giacomo Casanova, who successfully escaped from the supposedly inescapable prison in 1755.
Things to Know Before You Go
Large backpacks, bags, and umbrellas are not allowed inside the Doge’s Palace; there is a free cloakroom near the palace entrance.
Parts of the Doge’s Palace, including the Secret Itineraries route and Bridge of Sighs, are not wheelchair accessible.
The Secret Itineraries tours are especially fascinating for history buffs who want to take a deep dive into Venice’s past.
How to Get There
The Piombi is inside the Doge’s Palace on Piazza San Marco, and the closest vaporetto stop is San Zaccaria, with routes running along the Grand Canal from the Santa Lucia train station. Venice is one of the most popular destinations in Italy and well connected by train to Rome, Florence, and Milan.
When to Get There
The Doge's Palace is among the most visited sights in Venice and can get unpleasantly crowded during the peak midday hours. Booking a Secret Itineraries tour in advance is imperative during the months of April through October, but also recommended in winter.
From the Prison Over the Bridge of Sighs
One of the most famous attractions in Venice, the Bridge of Sighs spans the narrow Rio di Palazzo canal between the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace and the New Prisons just opposite. The 17th-century bridge got its name from the legend that convicts would let out mournful sighs when passing through the covered bridge from their interrogation to their prison cells, moved by their final glimpse of Venice through the bridge’s windows.
- Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
- Bridge of Sighs
- St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
- San Marco Chamber Orchestra (Virtuosi di Venezia)
- Correr Museum (Museo Correr)
- St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)
- Church of San Zaccaria (Chiesa di San Zaccaria)
- San Gallo Theater (Teatro San Gallo)
- St. Mark's Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio)
- Hard Rock Cafe Venice
- Church of Santa Maria Formosa (Chiesa di Santa Maria Formosa)
- Campo Santa Maria Formosa
- Querini Stampalia Foundation (Fondazione Querini Stampalia)
- Bovolo Staircase (Scala Contarini del Bovolo)
- La Fenice Opera House (Teatro La Fenice)