Lazareti were built as one of the preventive health measures to protect the population of Dubrovnik during the times of the Dubrovnik Republic, the first quarantine in the world.
Once upon a time Dubrovnik was an extremely important port, welcoming travellers from all over the world – one could say not much has changed. But, it was a different time then, so back in 1337 the Dubrovnik Republic made a decision which introduced quarantine, for the first time in the world, as a measure of protection against spreading of infectious diseases, especially the plague. This decision was published in the so-called Green Book (Liber viridis) entitled: Veniens de locis pestiferis non Intra Ragusim nel districtum – Who comes from infected regions, should not get into Dubrovnik nor its area.
Yes, Dubrovnik introduced quarantine 150 years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” America.
It was determined that the locals or foreigners coming from infectious regions couldn’t enter the city, if they hadn’t spent 30 days on the islands Mrkan, Bobara and Supetar, close to Cavtat.
In a decision made in 1397 it was said that foreigners and their ships couldn’t sail west from Molunat or east of Mljet, and are determined to be in the quarantine on the island of Mrkan, where at that time there was a Franciscan monastery, or on Mljet where there is Benedictine monastery.
Because of the distance, but also for strategic reasons, quarantine was moved closer to Dubrovnik in the 15th century.
At the beginning of the 15th century in Dubrovnik there was a quarantine on Dance, one of the oldest beaches in Dubrovnik. In 1430 for this purpose some houses in the town park Gradac were chosen, and in 1457 a quarantine at Dance was built, along with a church. And thanks to an effective organization of this quarantine it meant that the quarantine on the islands near Cavtat was completely abandoned.
In 1533 the building of quarantine started on the island of Lokrum. Although a large square quarantine was built, it was never completed or used.
At the end of the 15th century, a decision was made on the construction of the Lazareti on Ploce, directly to the east of the Old City walls. The start of construction was in 1590 and it was completed in 1642. The duration of quarantine was extended from thirty to forty days and health workers called 'kacamorti' were in charge to check if the rules of quarantine were respected. Of course the world quarantine originates from the Italian word “quaranta” a derivative of forty.
Lazareti is an impressive complex, made up of ten long spaces, among which are five internal courtyards with two houses at the entrance and the end. The complex is surrounded by a high wall and doors from the sea and the land side.