VENICE AND THE PLAGUE
VENICE AND THE PLAGUE
Highlights of this tour:
History of the plagues in Venice
San Rocco area in San Polo
Church of la Salute
Stroll off the beaten path
This unusual and fascinating tour begins with the Church of San Rocco, protector of plague victims, where his relics are still enshrined.
Additionally there are huge paintings by Tintoretto, depicting miraculous healings the French Saint Rocco performed in the hospitals, and other details of his adventurous life.
We then walk to a mask workshop and discuss the frightening costumes used by the “doctors of the plague,” a black waterproof robe meant to prevent any contact with patients, and a ghostly long beaked mask intended to disinfect the “contaminated airs” of the city.
We also stop at some old rain cisterns, once under the strict controlof the authorities who tried their best to safeguard the pureness of the drinking water.
They encouraged citizens to report those who didn’t respect the hygienic rules meant to prevent the scourge of the plague.
Our walk ends at the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, “Our Lady of Good Health,” a Baroque sanctuary begun by architect Longhena in 1631 to fulfill a solemn vow taken by the Venetian Senate.
The Senate was desperately struggling to stop the fatal disease from spreading further, after the death of 46,000 Venetians.
Its history and popularity testify to the fervent faith and efforts of an entire community, past and present, who yearned for eternal protection.
They hoped that the construction of a major church was an act that might bring about the salvation of the city.
The prominent architecture and location, the exuberant sculptural and pictorial decoration (Juste Le Court, Titian, Luca Giordano) make the Salute Church one of the most representative monuments of Venetian civilization.
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MORE ABOUT THIS TOUR
The Black Death originated either in China or Central Asia in the 1330s, traveling along the Silk Road, and reaching the Black Sea by 1346.
From there, it was carried into the Mediterranean (and then throughout Europe) by Genoese merchant ships returning home.
Now we know that the bacterium (yersinia pestis) was transported by a species of fleas living on common black rats who were then embarking as regular passengers on the ships. 30 to 60% of Europe’s population died in a few years, leaving an indelible mark on the continent’s history.
Venice, a large commercial emporium was, of course, at high risk of contagion. Between 1348 and 1509 the survival of Venice, the Most SereneRepublic, was periodically challenged by the Black Plague, which struck the city and its territories 28 times!
Although ignoring the scientific basis of the plague, the Venetians soon recognized its infectious nature and tried their best to limit its devastating effects without interrupting their trading activities.
By early 15th century, a complex defensive organization started to work successfully, and the first formal system of quarantine was established. During the 16th and 17th centuries the number of outbursts considerably diminished. The last tremendous epidemic in Venice was over by 1631, while the last major plague in Europe hit Marseille in 1720.
Then, according to pathologists, a massive migration of a bigger and stronger species of rats from Central Asia provoked the progressive extinction of the black rats. With their disappearance, after 370 years the plague disappeared from Europe.
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