Our visit to the quarantine island, called Lazzaretto Novo, the New Lazaret, begins at the Fondamente Nuove landing stage, in the district of Cannaregio. Here we’ll catch public ‘vaporetto’ and enjoy a 20 minutes trip in the North Lagoon. Our guide will introduce the topic, sadly of great relevance in our days.
The Black Deathstruck Venice heavily in 1349-1350. Everyone was taken by surprise. It then took a few decades to realize that the pandemic wasnot just one single terrible episode, but a constant threat with which somehow mankind had to deal. The world was not to be the same again for centuries. And yet…
By 1423 the island of St Mary of Nazareth was chosen by the Venetian Senate to become a plague hospital, the first in the world. The word ‘Nazareth’ was mispronounced ‘Lazaret’, that’s where the term comes from. Located very close to the island of Lido, it is today known as ‘Lazzaretto Vecchio’,the old lazaret.
While pneumonic and septicemic plagues where 100% lethal, the bubonic plague killed around 75% of the infected. It became then necessary to keep these people under sanitary control for some time before readmitting them into Venice, which was then a bustling metropolis. After 40 = ‘quaranta’ dayswith no symptoms people where allowed back to their regular life. That’s where the term ‘quarantine’ originates.
Established in 1468, the quarantine island, previously known as ‘Walled Vineyard’, was renamed Lazzaretto Nuovo, the new lazaret. Besides the convalescent from the plague,
it was here that the crews and the merchandise arriving to Venice from possibly infected ports where kept for safety and disinfection.
Still today, we’ll be able to see the structure of the ‘mini-apartments’, endowed with kitchen, bedroom and a fireplace where people had to spend the quarantine, also known as ‘contumacia’. The guards of the Health Magistracy would prevent ‘guests’ to run away and would prohibit any contact with the world outside. You’ll hear about the period of quarantine described by Francesco Sansovino, a VIP and a writer.
Almost intact and still preserving a large number of inscriptions and itemsdating back to the XVI and XVII centuries is the enormous brick and wood structure called ‘Tezon Grando’, the warehouse where the goods descending from the ships and presumably infectiouswhere orderly stocked and accurately disinfected.
The walls of the Tezon Grando are a lively and fascinating document of the life of peoplethat worked here: superstitious inscriptions surrounded by a wolf-teeth decoration, intricate love-knots, commercial logos, boats and ships bring us back to the days in which the quarantine island burst with activity and voices.
We’ll be also able to vision a short documentary moviegiving us a more complete insight of the vicissitudes of the Lazzaretto Nuovo through the course of history. From the years in which it was instituted, to when, in the XIX c. it was transformed into a military base, until our present days, when it was into an extremely interesting witness of the never ending struggle of mankind against the plague and other pandemics.
While we wait for the vaporetto to bring us back to Venice we have time for a walk around the verdant quarantine island, dotted with other historical buildings and embraced by the soothing and peaceful waterscape of the Lagoon. When in Venice you might like to proceed with our Plague in Venice tour.
Cost of this tour
This tour lasts approximately 3 hours and costs: 280 euro up to 6 people
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