Initially a place of worship and reception for crusaders and pilgrims returning from Holy Land, it then became the first public hospital in the world as well as a place of cutting-edge techniques for the prevention of infectious diseases.
Later transformed into a military warehouse, today it is an important witness of a historical-monumental heritage of great interest, as well as the place where the birth of the National Archeology Museum of the City and of the Venice Lagoon is expected.
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The island of Lazzaretto Vecchio is an island in the central lagoon with an area of about two and a half hectares of which 8,500 square meters are built.
Between 2004 and 2008 it was affected by significant structural restoration interventions in the perspective of future enhancement through the setting up of the National Museum of Archeology of the City and of the Venice Lagoon, in connection with the Lazzaretto Nuovo. The City Museum could become the place where to know the origin of Venice and the life of the Venetian population between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In fact, over a thousand human skeletons have been found on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, of which only about fifty have been partially analyzed to date - some of which seem to indicate the absence of caries, the average height of 1.65 meters of the population with some peaks beyond the meter and eighty, as well as the tendency to become ill with arthritis, tuberculosis and syphilis, although less frequent -, in part accompanied by objects such as coins, valuables, game dice, crucifixes and small containers, also attributable to peoples foreigners such as Spaniards, Chinese and Africans.
Today it is possible to visit the island in some extraordinary openings - or by appointment agreed with the Archeoclub, which manages it. You can visit the large historic buildings - with the western side dedicated to the priory and the rest reserved for the large tézoni that housed the sick -, the pictorial testimonies on the walls, its valuable stone artefacts, including the two wells of the century . XV-XVI. From the Loggia del Piorato you can enjoy absolute peace with a view of the lagoon, ranging from the shores of the Lido of Venice to San Marco, passing through the Poveglia Island.
In the Lazzaretto Vecchio there is a square, one of the few exceptions in the area compared to the more traditional fields and squares: Piazza del Priorato (or Priorado).
The transformation into a hospital starts with the year 1423 when, under the dogado of Francesco Foscari and by decree of the Senate, the Republic of Venice establishes - for the first time in the world - a place for the care and isolation of patients with plague, called hospitable. The island of Santa Maria di Nazareth is thus identified as a useful place for the purpose, thanks also to its position not far from the Lido of Venice. The religious order and its church will be moved to what is now the Scalzi church, near the current train station.
On the island there was a church dedicated to the Virgin, it is said that it dates back to the thirteenth century, as well as some accommodation and welfare structures built for the crusaders and pilgrims returning from the Holy Land. Over the centuries these places were gradually under-used until they lay in a state of neglect, even for the increasingly smaller number of faithful who resided there: it was one of the reasons that pushed the Senate to the decision to found a lazaretto here. In 1429 80 rooms were set up for the hospitalization of the plague victims and, after only 60 years, an inventory of stuff from Nazareto drawn up in 1484 shows that there were 209 beds.
The year 1485 was a historic date: for the first time a state established the creation of a public hospital by law. Before this date, the places where the sick were treated and treated were managed by monastic orders and benefactors, in which only the religious and volunteers themselves worked.
The original name of the place was Nazarethum, taking up the name of the pre-existing religious complex, which over time, partly due to the vulgarization of the name, partly seems to be similar to the nearby island dedicated to San Lazzaro (degli Armeni) - protector of lepers and contagious patients - used as a leper colony since the thirteenth century, it takes the name of Lazzaretto, which took the full name of Lazzaretto Vecchio after the middle of the 1400s to distinguish itself from the Lazzaretto Nuovo and which was totally dedicated to quarantine.
Over the centuries, the Lazzaretto Vecchio was progressively enlarged through sales pitches of the surrounding slums, destined for a long time to shelter full-blown plague patients, and then gradually transformed into preventive default for crews and militias from the East. The functions of quarantine and disinfection of merchandise from the Levant began as early as the second half of the sixteenth century, as demonstrated by the commercial lettering on the internal plasters of the tézon grando or old tézon.
The word quarantine was born right here where the goods were managed by special control, disinfection and isolation procedures for forty days, a time frame deemed useful to ensure that the infectious diseases present on the goods and people were eradicated. The infected or suspicious ships were instead confined
between the port of Malamocco and the island of Poveglia, in the Fisolo and Spignon canals.
The largest expansion occurred in the seventeenth century during the last plague epidemic of 1630-31, involving the occupation of a part of the lawn and the raising of brick sheds along the north and south-east perimeter. Each shed is made up of at least one opening intended exclusively for the isolation of goods.
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the health authorities decided to change course, not to invest in renovating the existing place, but to build a new health center on the island of Poveglia; in cases of need, the Lazzaretto Vecchio continued to perform its functions at least until the mid-nineteenth century, to then become, first partially and then exclusively, a military warehouse. This last change of intended use led to the demolition of some buildings: the church, the bell tower and what remained of the medieval buildings and the two powder towers. In addition, the porch téze were buffered for the storage and ventilation of the goods, raising the floor to protect it from high water.
The military presence ceased in 1960 to be replaced by that of a kennel managed by volunteers who managed to guarantee the conservation of the artifacts. In the first years of the XXI century the Archaeological Superintendence of the Veneto has started a series of radical restorations that have guaranteed the physical protection of the structures, even if - in the absence of continuous custody and new permanent uses - they were now starting to be subject to thefts and vandalism.
The Lazzaretto Vecchio is a ministerial asset of responsibility of the Polo Museale del Veneto, it is possible to visit it thanks to the collaboration with the Archeoclub, with custody and maintenance tasks, also for public use: in 2014 the island has already been opened to the I publish four times while in 2015 there have been six appointments, also thanks to the presence of an installation of the Art Biennale.