It’s from quarantena, the period of 40 days that cargo and merchandise arriving from faraway lands was sequestered on the island of Lazaretto Nuovo. All sorts of treatments were applied to the goods held in storage there in the hopes of extinguishing whatever bestie might be lurking that could potentially carry the dreaded bubonic plague to the city. Venice was decimated by two major plagues barely fifty years apart (1576 and 1630), a factor which certainly contributed in no small part to the Republic’s eventual demise.
The English word origins don’t stop there, of course. It’s one of the first uses of the word word “lazaretto” to refer to a hospital or place of quarantine for those with infectious diseases (a bibical allusion to Lazurus). You were shuttled to Lazzaretto Vecchio if you developed symptoms of the plaque to recover…or not. In fact, just last year mass graves were discovered on Lazzaretto Vecchio; the graves were utilized not as a result of disrespect for the dead, but of the number and speed at which people were dying.
On Lazzaretto Nuovo however, evidently sailors from Crete, Constantinople, pass the time by leaving wonderful recounts scribbled attentively across the wall; they seem to be the ancient equivalent of “I was here.” They are very well restored, and almost always allude to events of the day and affirming they were experienced in buona compania. Even then, it seems that hanging out with good friends was a highly-valued activity.
There is much more to see on Lazzaretto Nuovo, including a still-operational vera da pozzo with one of the few engraved lions that Napoleon missed in his manic quest to obliterate them all. You may tour Lazzaretto Nuovo on Saturdays and Sundays in either the morning or late afternoon from April through October, other days by appointment.
For more information stop by the tourist office, visit the website, www.lazzarettonuovo.com or call +39 041 244 4011. To reach the island, take Linea 13 for Sant’Erasmo from the Fondamente Nove, and ask the ACTV personell to let you know when you should get off.
One last note: take mosquito repellent. As well-cared for as the island is, it’s still a bit difficult to keep the bestie under control. Now we know why they abandoned Torcello…