In the seaside towns the Lazzaretti (leper hospitals) were closed or isolated places where people and goods, mainly coming from countries where they entertained trade, were confined, suspected to be infectious and disease carriers (leprosy or plague). Therefore it often happened that those ships carrying goods with their crews, coming back from their voyages, had to spend a stay in these places for about forty days (the quarantine).
The origin of the name Lazzaretto
The origin of this name is referable to two hypothesis, the first comes from the leprous Lazzaro as remembered in the Gospels and assumed as caretaker of the lepers. The second is a reference to the first Lazzaretto of the history, the one located just in Venice and known as “Lazzaretto Vecchio”, where the first inhabitants of the island, the Eremitani Fathers, had built a church dedicated to St. Mary of Nazareth (hence called Nazzaretto) and a shelter for the pilgrims going to or coming from the Holy Land (1249).
The Venetian large city against the Black Death
In the thirteenth century the Venetians were 80.000, in the fourteenth we could estimate 120.000 inhabitants in the city and 40.000 in the islands around it. Such figures are astonishing if we only think that in the Middle Ages western Europe a town with 10.000 inhabitants was considered a large city. But already starting from 1348 the plague began to devastate the population.
The Black Death appeared in two forms: the first one was the bubonic plague, that revealed itself indeed with blackish swellings; the other one was the lung disease with acute pneumonia symptoms, transmitted through infection from person to person. The difference between the two forms wasn’t very clear to the Venetians, therefore if the quarantine could avoid the direct spread of the lung disease, it was useless against the bubonic plague. Its transmission was due to the infected fleas of the mice guests of the ships.
The Eastern plague transmitted by rats
And just from the East the fatal coming: Caffa, a Crimean post, haunted by Venetians and Genoeses was besieged by the Tartars, already devastated by the illness, who, to force the surrender of the defenders, decided to catapult their dead men into the city. In the Autumn of 1347, a Venetian galley from Caffa brought the plagued rats into Italy. In the eighteen following months three fifths of the Venetians died of plague.
Since 1348 three centuries ravaged by the Black Plague followed, but after the decimations there were also significant increases of population growth: in the sixteenth century the number of Venetians was almost the same of that of the fourteenth century, about 120.000.
We are awaiting you with the Plague and Soul Route: an exciting experience on the history trails.