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 This linear style favoured by the Venetian architects was not totally superseded by the Baroque one until the end of the 16th century.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:
Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.
Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.