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Lazareti Quarantine

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Lazareti qarantine in Dubrovnik - the first qarantine in Europe


In the Middle Ages, Asia and Europe were devastated by outbreaks of incurable diseases from plague to malaria. Due to the maritime trade, Dubrovnik was not spared from these epidemics. In 1527, the plague in one fell swoop swallowed as many as 20 thousand lives. One barber named Andrija, who it is thought to brought the pague from Ancona to Dubrovnik, was tortured and ordered to be tied to a cart, pulled across the city and poked with red-hot tongs until he died.


Epidemics had broken out earlier than this in Dubrovnik. In 1377, Dubrovnik issued a decree according anyone who lived abroad to spend 40 days at one of the nearby islands before entering the city. It was the first such decision in the world and is now considered the quarantine was originally a Dubrovnik invention. Only if it is proven that a person is healthy would they be released in to the city. Conditions on these islands, where these people lived without a roof over their heads, were almost as devastating as the disease itself  and so the authorities decided to build wooden houses on Dance beach as well as a church with a cemetery.


The area where the infected lived was surrounded by a high wall so they could not escape. Gravediggers who took care of the burial of the sick had probably the hardest job in the history of the Republic. Not only were they exposed daily to infectious diseases but they had to be very careful that they didn't accidentally drop a piece of cloth or something similar from the hearse and were not allowed among healthy people. Two undertakers Mihoč Markovic and Živan Navel were punished for walking among the healthy population. They were hanged at a place still called the Vjesalima (gallows), where today there is a car park above Dance.


Eventually, the space at Dance beacme too small so in 1627 it was decided to build a new quarantine – Lazareti, at the east entrance to the city. Here, bothe people and good would stay before being allowed to enter the city. Just how much they were afraid of an epidemic is best illustrated by the fact that during an epidemic of disease, the leaders of the city fled to Zaton, leaving ten nobles to manage Dubrovnik. Nine of them died and the only person who actually managed the city during the plague was  83 year-old Marin Restić.


It is interesting that the people of Dubrovnik at the time thought that the plague could be treated with vinegar and sour milk. They beleived that sour milk eased pain and that pathogens cannot survive in vinegar. Overall, Dubrovnik was ravaged by more than 50 epidemics that killed over a 100,000 people. If not for the Lazareti, the figure would surely be considerably worse.

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