Particularly during years of plague outbreak, Lazzaretto Nuovo served as a quarantine island and “decontamination centre”; before sailors and their cargo, were allowed onward passage to Venice and other destinations.
The small island is about 9 hectares in size; 3 Km north-east from Venice and just in front of the St. Erasmo channel.
Lazzaretto Nuovo, close to the main sea entrance into the lagoon; had been of strategic importance since ancient times and was used by ships travelling between Ravenna and Altino.
Now coming under the auspices of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities; it is one of the few abandoned islands of the Venice Lagoon, to have undergone a decisive action plan for recovery and restoration.
Lazzaretto Nuovo (far right), just off the north-west coast of Sant’Erasmo, now served by ACTV line 13 request stop only.
Lazzaretto Vecchio (far left), the other plague island, just north of the Lido.
Lazzaretto Nuovo – HISTORY
Archaeological artefacts found on the site, have proven the presence of humans since the Bronze Age. The first written document – a notarial act referring to the Island as “Vigna Murada” (a walled vineyard); dates back to 1015 AD.
The “Vigna Murada” was surrounded by saltworks. During the Medieval Age, salt production was an important economic resource for the northern Lagoon; whose main centre was Torcello.
During the Middle Ages, Benedictine monks of San Giorgio Maggiore, owned the island and constructed a church there dedicated to St. Bartholomew.
However, this island at the very entry point to the Venetian lagoon, would prove to have far too strategically important a location, to remain a vineyard and religious outpost for very long.
The plague was a recurrent, serious problem in the isolated and water-bound republic of Venice. It was important medically, to isolate those sick with the plague as soon possible; hence the plague islands were established.
In 1423, the first such Lazzaretto, was established in the Venetian lagoon, on the island of Santa Maria di Nazareth, near the Lido. It was also called “Nazaretum”, then “Lazaretum” and later “Lazzaretto Vecchio“ (Old Lazzaretto).
In 1468, by decree of Senate of Serenissima; Vigna Murada became “Lazzaretto Nuovo“ (New Lazzaretto). Ships sailing to Venice were required to stop here for a mandatory quarantine and decontamination period. Anyone found to be carrying the plague or suspected of being sick would be shipped off to Lazzaretto Vecchio, set close to the Lido.
Those decreed to be in good health after 40 days of quarantine, could continue on to their destination.
(Note: “Quarantine” derives from the Venetian-dialect word “quarantena”, meaning “forty day period”. This was believed to be the amount of time necessary to determine if someone was infected with the plague; as they would have developed visible symptoms, within that time period).
Goods would be offloaded and stored in the “Tezon Grande“, a long building in the centre of the island, which once had open arches to allow air to pass through; this was considered a method of decontamination.
Comfortable housing was provided for those in quarantine, with individual kitchens and bathrooms for each; a huge luxury and massive undertaking, as over one thousand individuals might reside on Lazzaretto Nuovo at any one time.
Lazzaretto Nuovo, was also used as a recuperation island for those lucky few who survived the plague (and didn’t end up in a mass grave on Lazzaretto Vecchio.)
The facility underwent significant expansion and in 1576, Francesco Sansovino quoted that it has – “a hundred rooms and by far has the semblance of a castle”. This appearance was due to the nearly one hundred Venetian chimneys of the cells (“rooms”), located near the boundary wall.
In the inner spaces, large sheds or “Teze” were built for the cleaning of the goods; using mostly aromatic herbs, such as juniper and rosemary.
The main building on the island, the 16th century “Tezon Grande” (photo left) measures over 100 metres in length. It is the second largest public building in Venice, after the “Corderie dell’Arsenale” (rope factory).
Still preserved are many writings and original wall paintings (photo left). These artifacts record in extraordinary detail the presence of merchants, “bastazi” (porters) and guards of Magistrato alla Sanitá (Health Authority of the Serenissima). These documents describe arrivals of vessels and trades from Constantinople, Nauplia in Peloponnesus, Alexandria, Cyprus; as well as seals and symbols and names of doges and sailors.
Lazzaretto Nuovo’s use for medical purposes ended in the 18th century, after the fall of the Venetian Republic. The French and then the Austrians utilised it, as part of the military defence system of the lagoon.
In addition to the two already existing gunpowder towers, the large Tezon’s arcade was walled up, to convert the building into a powder warehouse. The boundary wall was fortified with slits, guard-houses, great Istria-stone bastions and external terre-plains. The island was then connected to the bridgehead of the nearby Sant’Erasmo and to the battery of the Torre Massimiliana.
Finally, it was then further utilised by the Italian army, until 1975.
RECOVERY AND RESTORATION OF THE LAZZAROTTI
Now fully recovered and coming under the auspices of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities; it is one of the few abandoned islands of the Venice Lagoon, to have undergone a decisive action plan for restoration and recovery.
It welcomes about fifteen thousand visitors a year and is a centre of national and international interest.
The Association of Volunteers “EKOS CLUB”, organises guided tours, meetings, exhibitions and events; with particular reference to the historical and environmental characteristics, culture and lagoon traditions.
As part of a program called “For the rebirth of an island”, many collaborations and projects are underway in conjunction with private organisations and public institutions; including in particular, the “Archeoclub of Italy“. Since 1987, it organises archaeological summer camps and activities, that make the island a centre for many scientific, teaching and research initiatives.
It also used by the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Veneto; as a depository for archaeological materials found in the lagoon.
Achievements, over the last few years, include the restoration of historic buildings by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the maintenance works by the Water Magistrate, the construction of an ACTV vaporetto request stop, a modern constructed wetland and connections to electricity and water systems.
Particular interventions are underway with the support of the Veneto Region and the UNESCO Private Committees.
Alongside the Lazzaretto Vecchio, also undergoing restoration, in relation to the History of Health and Anthropology; it will be an important stage in the establishment of the National Museum of Archeology of the Lagoon and of the City of Venice.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Guided tours of Lazzaretto Nuovo take place in April through to October; on Saturdays and Sundays, at 9:45am and 16:30pm.
Reservations are required for large groups and on other days and times.
Email: email@example.com Telephone: +39.0412444011.
Isola del Lazzaretto Nuovo – 30141 S. Erasmo – Venezia – Laguna Nord
There is no charge for the tour, although donations are gratefully accepted.
The guided tour will take approximately 90 minutes, including watching an introductory video and with some time to stroll the grounds.
Please note that the video and tour are conducted in Italian only. However, if you study up on Lazzaretto Nuovo before your visit; don’t let that put you off.
Lazzaretto Nuovo is reachable on the ACTV Vaporetto no.13, although be sure to inform the vaporetto conductor; as it is a request stop. You can catch the Vaporetto No 13 from the Fondamente Nuove, on the northern coast of Venice. It stops at Murano, Vignole, Lazzaretto Nuovo, Sant’Erasmo and then Treporti.
From Fondamente Nuove, you will want to catch either the 9:25 or 16:10 departures, to get to Lazzaretto Nuovo for the 9:45 or 16:30 guided tours that run on Saturday and Sunday. Please check the vaporetto schedules at the ACTV website.
When you are ready to leave Lazzaretto Nuovo, return to the dock and turn on the beacon light, for the direction you wish to travel – toward either Venice or Treporti. The next passing no.13 vaporetto boat will stop to pick you up – don’t worry, one will be by not long after the tour is finished.
Of course, you could also hire a private water taxi to drop you off and pick you up; but at a much greater cost.
Mosquitoes on Lazzaretto Nuovo can be a problem at certain times of the year. While the tour guide carries a bug spray; you may wish to bring your own.
THE CATS OF LAZZARETTO NUOVO
The primary residents of Lazzaretto Nuovo today are cats. They run up to greet arriving visitors & then see them off after the tour. The animals are well-fed and tended to by the ground staff.
Cats are much beloved in Venice and the lagoon islands, quite possibly because they were seen as beneficial in killing plague-carrying rats and mice.
Please see my other posts in the series: Islands of the Lagoon