The Bubonic Plague occurrences are some of the most horribly devastating, but fascinating, recorded events; even worse than the dreaded Swine Flu.
This cute little guy would be a prime suspect in an outbreak of plague occurring in the Southwest US.
It's a bit morbid, but one reason all this is interesting to me is that if we ever get into a situation where antibiotics are in short supply, or we have a drug resistant pandemic, we could all be in a very similar situation to our ancestors who saw the awful Bubonic Plague.
The crossroads of the East and West in terms of commerce in the Middle Ages was Venice. Along with Marseille and a few other busy shipping ports, Venice has frequently been a 'jumping off' point for infection. In Venice, most visitors know the story of the imposing church of the Salute situated across the Grand Canal from St. Marks square.
The year was 1630 and 46,000 people in the city itself and 94,000 in the lagoons had died in a most horrific way. The Republic of Venice vowed a bargain to build a church if the pestilence would take a hiatus. Strangely enough it did that very year, and the Venetians made good on their word by building a great church. There are also other older plague churches in Venice built as offerings, San Rocco (with its great Tintorettos), San Giobbe, and San Sebastiano.
At some point, the Venetians established the quarantine island of Lazzaretto Vecchio to place the infected who almost invariably died. So whether arriving in a ship as a lowly crew member or a wealthy lord from a palazzo, those with the signs of the disease were taken to the small island. The first graves were proper and they took time to wrap in cloth. But towards the zenith of the epidemic, those responsible for moving the dead (or almost dead) would just dump carts into trenches.
On this island in 2007, workers digging a foundation for a new plague museum uncovered mass graves. Archaeologists have found more than 1500 victims in just the areas dug so far. The new museum on Lazzaretto Vecchio is definitely on my list of things to see this Fall.
Another much older island now covered completely with water had been found in the 1960's with victims from the famous 1348 outbreak, San Marco in Boccalama. Near the same island in 1996, they found two 700 year old barges which might have been used to move plague victims to the quarantine island.
Don't be afraid to see the new Venice plague museum, or have fear of the catacombs in the major cities like Rome and Paris which undoubtedly would contain some plague victims. We are more resistant to the plague bacteria now because our ancestors were the ones who lived. Plus we have antibiotics to help out, for now. The World Health Organization reports 1000 to 3000 occurrences of plague each year.
Mi auguro che il museo di Lazzaretto Vechio sarà aperto da ottobre 2009. Storia della peste a Venezia è molto interessante.