Old school quarantine at the Quarters of Dubrovnik

Aerial view of Banje Beach in Croatia

Aerial view of Banje Beach in Croatia. The walled buildings on the left are the lazarettos, or quarantine quarters. Photo: dronepicr/Flickr

We’re now in a worldwide quarantine and many countries implementing stay-at-home orders. The practice of self-isolation isn’t an entirely new concept. We’re are aware of the various pandemics and disease outbreaks of the past and many of the things we’re currently going through are almost paralleling historical events.

The plague and small pox outbreak that affected many parts of Europe and Asia in the Middle Ages, was one of the first instances of these measures. While the doctors lacked the technology to further investigate viruses, they knew that if the infected were isolated from the general public, it would curb the spread of the disease.

The first instance of an official ruling to introduce a nationwide quarantine was by the Republic of Ragusa, now known as Dubrovnik in south Croatia. The reason for the quarantine was due to an active port within the republic, that transported people and goods from all around the world.

During the plague of the 14th century across the Balkans, the Great Council passed a legislation which required all merchants, sailors and goods arriving from plagued areas to spend a month in quarantine.
If the quarantined person was healthy and showed no symptoms by the end, he was allowed to enter the city.

The quarantined area (The Lazarettos) spanned across three islands, Mrkan, Bobara and Supetar, which were located quite a distance away from Dubrovnik. Despite being called a quarantine quarters, at first there were no actual living spaces within these areas. This proved to be a very serious health hazard, due to the concentration of people there and the living conditions ended up becoming even more lethal, than the actual disease.

Lazzarettos of Dubrovnik

Lazzarettos of Dubrovnik. Photo: Anamaria Mejia/Shutterstock.com

Realising this, soon some development was being sprung about in the area, which included the increase of living quarters. By the mid 15th century, the area evolved to become a complex city. It had guards, gravediggers, a priest, doctors and barbers with more amenities, in order to uphold the livelihood of the quarantined people.

It wasn’t till 1397, when quarantine orders become a little more structured and orderly with more specific rules implemented. The Great Council appointed three healthcare officers to ensure quarantine measures were fully adhered to. Those, who didn’t comply with the new measures, were imprisoned.

Also, a new lockdown measure was introduced. It prohibited of goods from entering the republic, during the entire epidemic. Strangely similar to what’s happening today, the lockdown curbed the entry of people and goods into the republic, but badly affected trade and economy for the city.

Lazzarettos, Dubrovnik

Lazzarettos of Dubrovnik. Photo: Anamaria Mejia/Shutterstock.com

It turns out, that the initial quarantine period was extended from 30 days to 40 days, which was known as a quarantena. The extension was decided, because a month wasn’t sufficient enough to hold of the epidemic from spreading further. So, that’s where the term quarantine came from.

It’s fascinating to observe the correlation between events from the past and today. It could be a good idea to learn from the history, in order to create a better tomorrow.

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