Directly opposite Via Riva del Corinto, a few meters away from the west coast of the Lido, is the Lazzaretto Vecchio, a tiny island of about 2 and a half hectares, of which more than 8,000 square metres are built.
Thanks to its location, the island has always been of historic importance for the routes to the lagoon, and its isolation has conditioned its fate.
Around the year 1000 the Hermits built a church dedicated to Santa Maria di Nazareth here, as well as an abode for pilgrims returning from (or departing for) the Holy Land.
The name “Lazzaretto” is therefore both the mutation of Nazaretum, but it is also due to the proximity to San Lazzaro degli Armeni: San Lazzaro, patron saint of the island, is the protector of lepers. In fact, at the behest of the Senate of the Serenissima, in 1423, the Lazzaretto Vecchio became the first hospital in the world for people suffering from plague and leprosy and, together with San Lazzaro degli Armeni and (from 1428) the Lazzaretto Nuovo, has represented Venice’s bulwark of protection against epidemics.
In the seventeenth century, the hospital complex came under military control, first Austrian and then Italian, and was used as a warehouse: the church and the bell tower were thus destroyed and a long period of decline began.
The Lazzaretto Vecchio also became a municipal kennel for a time. However, between 2004 and 2008, restorative works began. The aim was to create a Museum of the city and lagoon of Venice, and during the excavations mass graves were discovered with thousands of burials dating back mainly to the sixteenth century. The project was never completed, but since 2013 the Archeoclub di Venezia association helps organise visits and maintain the spaces of Lazzaretto Vecchio (as well as those of Lazzaretto Nuovo) free of charge.
Today, the island is part of the Museum of Veneto and has become a destination for visitors and tourists, who come here to learn about the history of healthcare during the Republic of Venice. Recently, a tender was launched by the Ministry of Culture to recover the buildings of the old hospital and build a National Archaeological Museum of the Venice Lagoon.
To visit Lazzaretto Vecchio:
During some extraordinary openings during the year.
For all the information about the upcoming openings, visit the Lazzaretti Veneziani website via this link.