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Venice and its policy against pandemics


Between 1348 and 1630 the Venetian government was busy fighting numerous plague epidemics like the rest of the world.


This deadly disease reached Europe from the East through the circulation of goods and people, and it spread out quickly, proving to be a scourge for the population. The worst plagues for Venice were those of 1576 and 1630 that decimated its population by one-third.


Which were the measures that the Venetian government took and put in place against it?


When the government of Venice understood the danger and contagiousness of this disease, the first decision made was to isolate their city by closing its land and sea borders.


In 1423 Venice was the first city in Europe to open hospitals for quarantine and for the treatment of plague victims. These hospitals were built on the edge of the city and its lagoon, away from the city center to avoid infections.


Later, in 1486 the Magistracy of Health was founded. Among all the measures it took, like monitoring the death rate, it traced the movements of merchants and travelers in Venice and its dominions. In this regard, it released medical passports certifying the holders’ health status as well as their place of provenance.


In times of plague brotherhoods also lent their help, offering their assistance to the plague victims. Alms and bequests were used to deal with these emergencies by paying for doctors and medicines.


For fear of getting infected, Venetian doctors harnessed themselves well. They wore a mask with a beak that was filled with spices and whatever else there was to protect themselves.

Through the mask you could only see their eyes which were in turn protected by glasses. They also wore a hat, gloves, a very long cloak on which wax was placed for protection and finally in their hands a stick that they used to touch their patients.


Unfortunately there were no immediate remedies to cure the plague because the origin of the disease was not yet known.The only chance people had, was to rely on faith. Starting from the Middle Ages, the Venetians addressed themselves in their prayers to the patron saints in charge of protecting them from the plague such as Saint Sebastian and Saint Roch, to whom they dedicated churches they constructed in their honor.


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