This grand Gothic palace was the Doge's official residence from the 9th century, and seat of the Venetian Republic's government (and prisons) for nearly seven centuries. The Doge's Apartments are on the 1st floor, but it's the lavishly decorated 2nd-floor chambers that are the real highlight. These culminate in the echoing Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Grand Council Hall), home to the Doge’s throne and a 22m-by-7m Paradise painting by Tintoretto’s son Domenico.

After fire gutted the original palace in 1577, Venice considered Palladio’s offer to build one of his signature neoclassical temples in its place. Instead, Antonio da Ponte won the commission to restore the palace's Gothic facade with white Istrian stone and Veronese pink marble. Da Ponte's palazzo effortlessly mixes past with present and business with pleasure, capping a graceful colonnade with medieval capitals depicting key Venetian guilds.

Climb the Scala dei Censori (Stairs of the Censors) to the Doge’s Apartments on the first floor. The 18 roaring lions decorating the doge's Sala degli Stucci are reminders that Venice's most powerful figurehead lived like a caged lion in his gilded suite, which he could not leave without permission. Still, consider the real estate: a terrace garden with private entry to the basilica, and a dozen salons with splendidly restored marble fireplaces carved by Tullio and Antonio Lombardo. The Sala del Scudo (Shield Room) is covered with world maps that reveal the extents of Venetian power c 1483 and 1762.

Ascend Sansovino’s 24-carat gilt stuccowork Scala d’Oro (Golden Staircase) and emerge into second floor rooms covered with gorgeous propaganda. In the Palladio-designed Sala delle Quattro Porte (Hall of the Four Doors), ambassadors awaited ducal audiences under a lavish display of Venice's virtues by Giovanni Cambi, Titian and Tiepolo.

Few were granted an audience in the Palladio-designed Collegio (Council Room), where Veronese’s 1575–78 Virtues of the Republic ceiling shows Venice as a bewitching blonde waving her sceptre like a wand over Justice and Peace. Father-son team Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto attempt similar flattery, showing Venice keeping company with Apollo, Mars and Mercury in their Triumph of Venice ceiling for the Sala del Senato (Senate Hall).

Government cover-ups were never so appealing as in the Sala Consiglio dei Dieci (Trial Chambers of the Council of Ten), where Venice’s star chamber plotted under Veronese’s Juno Bestowing Her Gifts on Venice, a glowing goddess strewing gold ducats. Over the slot where anonymous treason accusations were slipped into the Sala della Bussola (Compass Room) is his St Mark in Glory ceiling.

The cavernous 1419 Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Grand Council Hall) provides the setting for Domenico Tintoretto's swirling Paradise, a work that’s more politically correct than pretty: heaven is crammed with 500 prominent Venetians, including several Tintoretto patrons. Veronese’s political posturing is more elegant in his oval Apotheosis of Venice ceiling, where gods marvel at Venice’s coronation by angels, with foreign dignitaries and Venetian blondes rubbernecking on the balcony below.