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Hidden Places of the Venetian Lagoon.
The Venetian lagoon is huge; it counts around 60 islands where 30 are the principal. It counts many different types of birds and plants forming a unique and rich ecosystem. Of these 60 islands, some are really small others are bigger; fortunately today thanks to some no-profit associations some of these islands, which are a huge lagoon heritage, are being renovated and reopened to the public. One of these islands is the Lazzaretto Novo.
How to get there?
If you are in Venice, from Fondamenta Nove the line 13 of the ferryboat will bring you to the island. Remember to ask for the stop otherwise, the ferry will not stop. Situated around 30minutes navigation from Venice this island was very important during the splendour of the Serenissima.
When to go?
It is not possible to visit the island on your own because it is considered a museum but you must book a visit that will bring you on a tour of two hours inside the island. The visit consists of a walk of 1km all around the island where you can see the flora and fauna and then the visit will proceed inside to visit the archaeological part of the island. To book your visit and for more information www.lazzarettiveneziani.it
What was a Lazzaretto?
The name Lazzaretto means a place where people were quarantined. We are in the years of the plague and Venice invented these places to prevent the spread, inside the city, of the illness. it sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
In Venice, there were 2 Lazzaretto. Lazzaretto Vecchio and Lazzaretto Novo( translated to old and new). The first one was the hospital, all the ill people with plague were there to be cured even if there wasn’t any cure. While, in the second one, people and goods, arrived from the many trades that Venice had, were placed in quarantined.
In these years Venice was a great power and there were markets coming from many parts of the world; given its great importance in trade, Venice manages to impose quarantine on all the boats arriving. Not only the people were in quarantine but also the goods. This system allows Venice to prevent many deaths compared, for example, to other countries infected by the plague.
I went on a guided tour to the Lazzaretto Novo and It was surprising the timing of this visit, right at the end (we hope) of a pandemic where the only differences, between then and now, are the greater knowledge and the possibility of finding cures that we have today.
The tour lastest two hours and I discovered an amazing island full of history and things to tell. Unfortunately today the most part of the Lazzaretto there isn’t because the Napoleonic and Austrian conquests destroyed most of the island and changed its use for military purposes and as a storage facility. The only huge building that remained tell us so much about the history of this island. Indeed we can find graffiti inside the building that tell us about the active and busy everyday life of ships and merchants passing through the island. Not only can we find signs to distinguish the various goods, likes brands name, but also reliable stories and stories about the origin of the goods, (stories of doges for example that have been confirmed true) written on the walls.
We can say that Lazzaretto was a small city. There was a huge building for the quarantine of the goods and then there were houses for the quarantine of the people. Each crew was separated on their own house and could not make contact with other crews. They had everything they needed to spend 40 days on this island. When the days had passed and there was no plague, they could take back their goods and set sail again. The quarantine was mandatory for all even for the same Venetians.
The island was ruled by a prior (half guardian and half mayor). He had his own house and was the person that controlled that the quarantine was respected by everybody. Indeed he also had the right to condemn to death those who did not respect it.
Inside the island, there was also a doctor. I found this very curious because today the costume that the doctor used is a traditional carnival mask. The doctor was wearing a cloak and a cone-shaped leather mask. The mask was cone because it was useful to keep the distance (just like today), inside, instead, was put vinegar and herbs because it was thought that they prevented the plague (as a disinfectant for today’s hands). Today you can buy the plague doctor mask during the carnival.
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Read more about the other island of Venice