Lazzaretto Vecchio, established in 1423, was Venice’s first quarantine and hospital facility, for leprosy and then the bubonic plague.

The small island of 2.53 hectares (6.3 acres), lies very close to the inner side of the Lido, opposite the Via Riva del Corinto, a ferry-point to the island.

 


 

Above; Lazzaretto Nuovo with the Lido close behind .

INTRODUCTION

Lazzaretto Vecchio, established in 1423, was Venice’s first quarantine and hospital facility for leprosy and then the bubonic plague.

The small island of 2.53 hectares (6.3 acres), lies very close to the inner side of the Lido, opposite the Via Riva del Corinto, a ferry-point to the island.

In 1468, a second island “Lazzaretto Nuovo”, was opened for the quarantine of incoming ships crew and decontamination of their cargo.

Two later waves of bubonic plague, hit the city hard in 1576 and again in 1630. The island of Poveglia, became the third site that was utilised for the quarantine and burial of victims of these two plagues.

The ground-breaking role of these “lazzaretti”, were to both preserve the health of the citizens and try to limit damage to the Venetian economy.

Together, these islands were at the centre of Venice’s vast public health response to the plague. Building on earlier traditions of separating the sick from the healthy, the Venetian government became the first in the Mediterranean region to systematically use large-scale methods of isolation and information-collecting; to monitor and fight infectious diseases.

The effort was even more impressive, given that science at that time, could not explain how diseases spread. A germ theory of disease would not exist for several centuries later.

Despite the introduction of this novel system, it is thought that Venice lost around a third of its population. While the wealthy may have fled the city in large numbers, the poor had no choice but to remain, locked down in vulnerable in cramped and unhealthy housing conditions.

 

HISTORY

The island was originally known as Santa Maria di Nazareth. However, the word “lazzaretto”, was a clear reference to the nearby island of San Lazzaro; site of the renowned Armenian monastery.

It definitively took the name of “Lazzaretto Vecchio” (old lazzaretto), after starting construction in 1468, of the second isolation facility; that was to become Lazzaretto Nuovo (new lazzaretto).

 

Above: Lazzaretto Nuovo as seen from the Lido.

The island was enlarged several times, also by means of the surrounding shallows. In these areas, recent excavations have shown the presence of mass graves with thousands of burials, referable to the plagues of the 16th-17th centuries.

This second facility acted as a way-station for in-bound ships, so that crews could be isolated, examined and their cargo disinfected and stored. (Note: Later the Lazzaretto Vecchio, was also used as a quarantine place and for the disinfection of goods).

Around the middle of the 1800’s, the building was used as a military warehouse; with the subsequent demolition the church and the Romanesque bell tower.

Recent excavations have shown the presence of mass graves with thousands of burials dating back to the 16th-17th century. The death-toll reportedly reached 500 per day in the 16th century.

Around 1970, the island was used as a municipal kennel.

After years of devaluation of a place of such great historical and monumental importance, in the new millennium; the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage have adopted considerable interventions on the island. It is the intention of making it, the seat of the National Archaeological Museum of the Venice Lagoon.

In 2013, after a period of pause and fear that the island would sink again into abandonment and degradation; the Archaeological Superintendency of Veneto has reactivated maintenance works. Collaboration with many other associations, has allowed thousands of people to visit the island; giving it new impetus and purpose.

Above: Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) The Island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, Venice

 

GETTING THERE

*** Please check website and social media, for opening details. Because of recent significant construction activity and also Covid-19; guided tours may well be suspended.

Previous opening hours. Guided tours on some Sundays, 10am – 1pm and 3am – 6pm. Admission by donation.

Getting there; on Sundays when it’s open, there are frequent links from the jetty at Riva di Corinto (named after the black currants imported from Corinth and Zante).

https://lazzarettovecchio.it/

Email:  info@lazzarettiveneziani.it

Video:  https://bit.ly/LazzarettiVenezianiYT

Facebook:  @lazzarettiveneziani

Instagram:  @lazzarettiveneziani

Archeoclub d’Italia Venue of Venice

(Volunteer Association (Veneto Reg. Register n. VE0127 – 12.01.1993)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above Left: Staff building (centre) and Hospital for the Nobles (right)  Right: Interior of one of the long Galleries.

 

RECONSTRUCTION AND INCORPORATION INTO THE VENETO MUSEUM COMPLEX

In recent years, the island has undergone important interventions by the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage.

In 2008, a considerable part of structural work was completed (reconstruction of walls, roofs, banks and banks), with the project of making it the seat of the National Archaeological Museum of the Venice Lagoon. The aim was to finally to present in a philological and unified way, the extraordinary collection of materials recovered ,from thousands of archaeological research projects carried out in the lagoon. Two reconstruct the evolution and transformations of the city of Venice from ancient times to today. Unfortunately, the project was suspended due to lack of funds; risking abandonment and degradation.

Since September 2013, the Archaeological Superintendency of Veneto has re-activated a program survey, public visitation and minor maintenance projects; thanks to the free contribution of the Archeoclub of Venice (local office of the national association Archeoclub d’Italia and registered in the Register of Volunteer of the Veneto Region).

The Archeoclub of Venice, has already been active for decades on the island of the Lazzaretto Nuovo; in the area of educational practices and as a depository for archaeological finds from the lagoon. These programs have allowed the opening to the public, of the two Venetian Lazzaretti; a combination of great historical, cultural interest; with particular reference to the history of health.

Thanks also to significant word of mouth and collaboration with other associations; over seventeen thousand people were able to visit the island,between 2014 and 2019.

In 2020, a great response from the citizens, combined with media attention; saw MiBAC, restart the restorations and the incorporation into the National Archaeological Museum of the Venice Lagoon.

The island complex when re-opened, with its geographical position, historic buildings, displays and wall graphics; will be particularly fascinating and well worth a visit.

 

Please see my other posts in the category of “Islands of the lagoon”: HERE

 

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