Plague in Venice


A.J. Fabre                                           March 20, 2012 

 Venice was the Gate to Orient but its glorious fate was doomed by a recurrence of plague epidemics.

As early as Middle Ages, a quarantine station had to be constructed on an island nearby Lido in order to isolate the sick pilgrims returning from Holy Land. In 1468, a brand new station, Lazzaretto Nuov, was built near San Erasmo. In 1575-1576, Venice experienced, in a row, several plague outbreaks requiring drastic measures : installation of a curfew and interdiction to all officials to leave their post. A floating village was constructed on the Laguna and, above this nightmarish refuge, in a cloud of oppressive fumigations,

floated a warning flag to forbid all visits and, besides, stood a gallows, waiting for reluctants. "Not any day goes, writes a chronicler, without the towing of quarantine boats, at least fifty, each full with suspected Venitians, all gladly welcomed, much to the jubilation of all villagers who exhorted newcomers to give end to disheartenment, because, they said, here, people do not work and  live in a Land of Plenty.''

In 1577, to obtain a divine intercession and hasten the end of the epidemic, the Senate ordered the construction, on Giudecca island, from plans of Palladio himself, of a sublime church, the Redemptore ("Redeemer").

Even more dramatic to Venice was the 1630 plague brought by Thirty Years War. During Carnival, as sanitary

controls had become loose, burst a huge wave of plague. The toll was frightening : 46,000 deaths among the 94,000 people living in Venice at that time.

In October, the Senate decided to erect, at the south end of Grand Canal, a magnificent Basilica dedicated to Virgin Mary, "Mother of Salvation", the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute.

From all those dramatic plague episodes in Venice, remain only few marks in our times. However, several burial sites have been recently discovered during construction works, on the site of  Lazzaretto Vechio. Archeo-genetic investigation have been conducted by a Marseille CNRS team : Yersinia pestis DNA could be detected on dental pulp remains, in three graves, datable to fourteenth century in two graves and sixteenth century in the third.




Date de dernière mise à jour : 31/07/2013

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