A Plague on Venice

Venice certainly casts a spell, I can personally vouch for that. I didn’t think much of the droves of tourists, however, and I think that I would really prefer it there now with hardly anyone about and nothing to disturb the silence except the gentle lap of water at night and whispered conversations in the twilight. The evenings especially must be wonderful there at the moment, especially if you have a balcony.

Venice is actually no stranger to epidemics, and pioneered the practice of quarantine centuries before the germ theory of disease appeared. Like most European cities in the centuries after the Black Death, it was periodically visited by the plague, and in 1575 more than a third of its population of 170,000 died of it. In the early 15th century the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio was set up as a quarantine centre. Those suspected of having the plague were quarantined here for 40 days (quaranta giorni) before being allowed into the city. That’s where we get the English term ‘quarantine’ from.


When I think of Venice I think of Byron, and Casanova who escaped from a notorious prison at the top of the Doge’s Palace. Henry James stayed here for a time, in a palazzo on the Grand Canal, and Poe’s tale ‘The Assignation’ was set here too. So the city is full of atmosphere for me, with my passion for the Romantics and for Gothic literature. But unfortunately it looks as if it will be quite a while before I’ll be able to go back. Something to look forward to, perhaps…


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