The current palace was largely constructed from 1309 to 1424, designed perhaps by Filippo Calendario. It replaced earlier fortified buildings of which relatively little is known. Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon created the Porta della Carta in 1442, a monumental late-gothic gate on the Piazzetta side of the palace. This gate leads to a central courtyard.
The palace was badly damaged by a fire on December 20, 1577. In the subsequent rebuilding work it was decided to respect the original Gothic style, despite the submission of a neo-classical alternative design by the influential Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. However, there are some classical features — for example, since the 16th century, the palace has been linked to the prison by the Bridge of Sighs.
As well as being the ducal residence, the palace housed political institutions of the Republic of Venice until the Napoleonic occupation of the city in 1797. Venice was ruled by an aristocratic elite, but there was a facility for citizens to submit written complaints at what was known as the Bussola chamber.
The palazzo’s principal function was to provide a space for the government to carry out its civic responsibilities to its people. The doge did, in fact, reside in the palazzo, however, he held no real power and was a representative figurehead for the Republic.