Monica Gambarotto
Article by Monica Gambarotto

Discovering a Less Known Island of the Venetian Lagoon: Lazzaretto Nuovo

Discovering a Less Known Island of the Venetian Lagoon:
Lazzaretto Nuovo

Quite a few guests already know the most famous islands of the Venetian Lagoon, in particular Murano, Burano and Torcello in the northern area. Someone might have even reached the Lido island or Sant’Erasmo for a bike ride. Some more islands have become recently known as the sites of relatively new hotels and resorts, such as San Clemente.

There exist however several islands that are so important from a historical point of view, but ignored by most people… islands that have been restored and reopened after decades of research and work. Over the past few years these places have nonetheless attracted the attention of more and more guests.

This is the case of Lazzaretto Nuovo (The New Lazaret).

Short History of Lazzaretto Nuovo

The Great Building (Teson Grando)
The Great Building (Teson Grando)

At the origins, this island had probably strategic functions, but later it became the seat of a Benedictine monastery. In 1468 it acquired great importance for the Venetian Republic, as measures were adopted to limit the contagions and the disastrous consequences of the frequent epidemics, in particular those of bubonic plague.

In 1423 a state hospital had been created, with the aim of hosting the sick: it was the Lazzaretto Vecchio (the Old Lazaret). The State had in fact started to take care of the sanitary conditions of the citizens, whereas previously this activity would be performed by the members of different religious orders, being it considered a form of charity.

The Republic, though, had realised that some political move was needed in order to stem the infections, also considering the fact that the spread of contagion was caused mainly by the movement of people and goods, as well as by the particular environmental conditions.

It became then necessary to isolate those travellers who, although without showing any symptoms, were travelling to Venice from infected areas. An island was then identified for the purpose of isolating such travellers and their goods for forty days, thus avoiding the risk of contagion as much as possible. This island was the Lazzaretto Nuovo, and for the first time in history the concept of quarantine appeared.

After the fall of the Republic, the island was used again for military purposes.

Life in Lazzaretto Nuovo

The Appearance of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the 15th and 16th Centuries (photograph taken from the website www.lazzarettiveneziani.it)
The Appearance of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the 15th and 16th Centuries (photograph taken from the website www.lazzarettiveneziani.it)

Life passed by quietly in this place.

People were hosted in roughly one hundred small houses, placed along the perimeter of the island, which was surrounded by a boundary wall.
One house was a little different, larger and more comfortable than the others: it was the house of the official of the Republic, who was in charge of governing the place.
There was a public oven to bake bread, along with a couple of wells for the water supply.

Teson Grando (the Great Warehouse), interior
Teson Grando (the Great Warehouse), interior

 

There were large buildings, used as warehouses and called tese, where all the goods would be kept. Such structures had large open arches on the long sides, to let air circulate.
Except for being ventilated, the goods were placed on top of particular supports, in order to keep them off the ground, and were exposed to fumes of aromatic herbs or even disinfected with vinegar.
Every day a doctor visited all the temporary residents of the island.

Archaeological Findings and Historical Evidence

Inscriptions inside the Teson Grando
Inscriptions inside the Teson Grando

 

The Lazzaretto Nuovo underwent deep transformations over the centuries, in particular in the 1800’s and the 1900’s. Several buildings were destroyed or modified. The military function was dismissed only in relatively recent times, namely in 1975, and since then a long restoration has been taking place, thanks to all the research work financed both by government agencies and private funds.
Quite relevant has been the activity of the associations Ekos Club and Archeoclub d’Italia Sede di Venezia, which have promoted an important eco-museum project: without the determination of the members of these associations, no one would have probably paid attention to this place, and such relevant results would not have been obtained.
Over the past decades several findings have been discovered, some of them dating back to the Bronze Age which testifies the fact that the islands of the Venetian Lagoon have been inhabited even in a very distant past. There are numerous findings of Roman times and of the Middle Ages: pitchers, pieces of ceramics, coins, human bones. Most of these objects are exposed in the museum inside the Teson Grando.
In this very same building we can also see quite a few inscriptions, referring to Doges, events, new guests on the island, places of origin of goods and people. We can also admire e several drawings, some of which are really evocative, as for example the one representing a Byzantine church.

Inscription with Byzantine church
Inscription with Byzantine church

These are all evidences of history, life and culture of this island.

The Lazzaretto Nuovo and Its Environment

The environment of the Lazzaretto Nuovo
The environment of the Lazzaretto Nuovo

This island is surrounded by barene, particular muddy islands with a specific vegetation and exceptional fauna, in particular ornithological.
We can walk down the Sentiero delle Barene (the Mud Island Path): this path follows the perimeter of the Lazzaretto, and it allows us to admire a unique environment. We can really appreciate all the natural beauty that is so frequently neglected by visitors, so attracted by the architectural wonders of the city. This Path has been created in cooperation with the Museum of Natural History of Venice.
Beyond the groves, peeping out of the branches of ash trees, laurels, sloes and other trees and bushes, we can glimpse the vegetation that is so common on the barene: glassworth, limonium, mangrove…
Along the alley that leads to the Teson Grando we can admire secular mulberries.

All around, more ash trees, poplars and fruit trees. In the northern side of the island, walking closer to a ghebo (a narrow and shallow canal that flows within a barena), we can notice fish and lagoon shellfish.

There is an incredible variety of birds around here: seagulls, herons, egrets, marsh harriers… and sometimes you can even spot some flamingos nearby.

We will be more than happy to take you on a guided tour in this unusual corner of the Venetian Lagoon: you will not be disappointed for having chosen such an alternative tour!

I would like to thank the members of the project Ecomuseo dei Lazzaretti Veneziani (www.lazzarettiveneziani.it) for their knowledge, dedication and infinite patience.

Monica Gambarotto
BestVeniceGuides
www.guidedtoursinvenice.com

If you are interested in booking a tour with Monica Gambarotto please mail her directly: monica.gambarotto@gmail.com