Palazzo Santa Sofia is known as Ca' d'Oro ('golden house') due to the gilt and polychrome external decorations which once adorned its walls.
The palace was built between 1428 and 1430 for the Contarini family, who provided Venice with eight Doges between 1043 and 1676. The architects of the Ca d'Oro were Giovanni Bon and his son Bartolomeo Bon.
Following the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, the palace changed ownership several times. One 19th century owner, the ballet dancer Marie Taglioni, removed the Gothic stairway from the inner courtyard and destroyed the ornate balconies overlooking the court.
In 1894, the palace was acquired by its last owner, baron Giorgio Franchetti; throughout his lifetime, he amassed an important art collection and personally oversaw its extensive restoration, including the reconstruction of the stairway and the Cosmatesque courtyard with ancient marbles. In 1916, Franchetti bequeathed the Ca' d'Oro to the Italian State. It is now open to the public as a gallery: Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca' d'Oro.
The principal façade of Ca' d'Oro facing onto the Grand Canal is built in the Bon's Venetian floral Gothic style. Other nearby buildings in this style are Palazzo Barbaro and the Palazzo Giustinian. This linear style favoured by the Venetian architects was not totally superseded by the Baroque one until the end of the 16th century.
On the ground floor, a recessed colonnaded loggia gives access to the entrance hall directly from the canal. Above this colonnade is the enclosed balcony of the principal salon on the piano nobile. The columns and arches of this balcony have capitals which in turn support a row of quatrefoil windows; above this balcony is another enclosed balcony or loggia of a similar yet lighter design.References:
The eight towns in south-eastern Sicily, including Ragusa, were all rebuilt after 1693 on or beside towns existing at the time of the earthquake which took place in that year. They represent a considerable collective undertaking, successfully carried out at a high level of architectural and artistic achievement. Keeping within the late Baroque style of the day, they also depict distinctive innovations in town planning and urban building. Together with seven other cities in the Val di Noto, it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1693 Ragusa was devastated by a huge earthquake, which killed some 5,000 inhabitants. Following this catastrophe the city was largely rebuilt, and many Baroque buildings from this time remain in the city. Most of the population moved to a new settlement in the former district of Patro, calling this new municipality 'Ragusa Superiore' (Upper Ragusa) and the ancient city 'Ragusa Inferiore' (Lower Ragusa). The two cities remained separated until 1926, when they were fused together to become a provincial capital in 1927.