Places to Ex­plore

Get close to plague pits and sur­gi­cal tools at th­ese fea­tured at­trac­tions

All About History - - CONTENTS -

Med­i­cal mu­se­ums and sites to visit


The old­est pur­pose-built quar­an­tine sta­tion, the eerie Lazzaretto Vec­chio was es­tab­lished in 1423 on one of the smaller is­lands of the Vene­tian la­goon to pro­tect the great mer­can­tile city from the rav­ages of the plague. With ships ar­riv­ing from Asia and Africa, Venice was es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to the spread of dis­ease and all those in­fected re­gard­less of so­cial sta­tus or wealth were con­demned to crowded bunkhouses on the re­claimed mud­flats of Lazzaretto Vec­chio.

Though much of the ear­lier struc­ture was pulled down in the 19th cen­tury to build a bar­racks, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work con­tin­ues to un­cover much of its grue­some early his­tory.

Graf­fiti can be seen from the 16th cen­tury when bubonic plague rav­aged the city and as re­cently as 2006 a mass grave of 1,500 neatly buried 15th cen­tury skele­tons was dis­cov­ered, prov­ing that this ill-fated is­land still has se­crets left to yield.

Lazzaretto Vec­chio can be vis­ited on Sun­days from April to Oc­to­ber, or through spe­cially booked tours. Find out more at laz­zaret­tovec­


Built in 1317 and greatly em­bel­lished in the fol­low­ing cen­turies as tes­ta­ment to grow­ing wealth and in­flu­ence of the Repub­lic of Ra­gusa (Dubrovnik from 1358 to 1808), the pri­mary duty of the monastery’s Do­mini­can fri­ars was the care of the sick and although it re­mains a fully in­hab­ited monastery, the beau­ti­ful clois­tered medic­i­nal herb gar­den can be vis­ited by tourists along with the phar­macy, which first opened in 1317 and is the third old­est in the world.

This an­cient phar­macy was orig­i­nally the monastery’s pri­mary source of rev­enue and is still a work­ing shop, as well as Old Phar­macy Mu­seum, mean­ing that the dis­pens­ing of pre­scrip­tions to the modern in­hab­i­tants of Dubrovnik sits side-by-side with a se­lec­tion of me­dieval and early modern med­i­cal im­ple­ments. Much like the monastery it­self, the phar­macy’s 700-year story is far from over.

Fran­cis­can Church and Monastery is open 9am to 6pm April to Oc­to­ber, and 9am to 2pm Novem­ber to March. Ad­mis­sion is 40 kuna.

3 Mu­seum of the or­der of st John


Now known in their modern in­car­na­tion as St

John Am­bu­lance, the med­i­cal mis­sion of the Or­der of St John dates back to 1080, when a group of monks es­tab­lished a hos­pi­tal in Jerusalem to care for sick and in­jured pil­grims vis­it­ing the Holy City.

The Hospi­tallers – as they be­came known – grad­u­ally trans­formed into the Knights Hospi­taller dur­ing the Cru­sades, to de­fend by sword the pil­grims they sought to heal, first by pro­vid­ing armed es­cort for pil­grims and even­tu­ally lead­ing and field­ing armies.

The mu­seum’s gate­house lo­ca­tion is all that re­mains of the 12th cen­tury Clerken­well Pri­ory, once the English base of the Or­der of St John, and taken from them dur­ing the reign of Henry VIII. Most of the knights fled for Malta, but three who did not were ex­e­cuted as traitors for their loy­alty to the Pope. The Mu­seum of the Or­der of St John con­tains not just ma­te­ri­als and records re­fer­ring to the 150-year his­tory of the St John Am­bu­lance, but Me­dieval manuscripts de­tail land grants and royal priv­i­leges, coins from the Cru­sader states and seals of the pri­ors, as well as nu­mer­ous ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ma­te­ri­als from the lost Clerken­well Pri­ory.

The most in­ter­est­ing items in the col­lec­tion re­flect the power and pres­tige of the or­der’s early modern pa­trons, in­clud­ing a can­non com­mis­sioned by Henry VIII for the de­fence of their is­land fortress of Malta, and a crys­tal cross gifted by by Pope Pius V in 1565.

The Mu­seum of the Or­der of St John is open Mon­day to Satur­day 10am to 5pm. Ad­mis­sion is free. Find out more at mu­se­um­


One of the old­est pre­served hos­pi­tal build­ings in Europe, Sint-janshospitaal was founded in the 12th cen­tury to care for pil­grims, trav­ellers and the sick, and re­mained in op­er­a­tion as a place of heal­ing un­til the 1800s when it moved into a new site, now a con­fer­ence cen­tre.

The mu­seum, which is lo­cated in the gothic in­fir­mary, con­tains paint­ings and sculp­tures of heal­ing saints, as well as reli­quar­ies and six 15th cen­tury pan­els by Hans Mem­ling, which are tes­ta­ment to the wealth of the or­der and the be­lief that cur­ing the soul would cure the body.

A unique time cap­sule of me­dieval health­care, the orig­i­nal herb gar­den and apothe­cary can still be vis­ited, as well as the 17th cen­tury phar­macy. The hos­pi­tal con­tains many orig­i­nal sur­gi­cal in­stru­ments, sil­ver­ware, jars, bot­tles and pots, as well as a doc­u­ment dat­ing from 1188 that de­tails the daily du­ties of the lay broth­ers and sis­ters.

Sint-janshospitaal is open Tues­day to Sun­day 9.30am to 5pm. Find out more at vis­it­­shos­pi­taal­saint-johns-hos­pi­tal.


One of the world’s old­est con­tin­u­ously op­er­a­tional phar­ma­cies, the com­pany of Of­fic­ina Pro­fumo-far­ma­ceu­tica di Santa Maria Novella was es­tab­lished in 1612 but its glo­ri­ously or­nate head of­fice, store and mu­seum is heir to a much older legacy.

The build­ing was orig­i­nally part of a Do­mini­can con­vent and in­fir­mary, and medic­i­nal herbs have been cul­ti­vated on the site by cu­ri­ous fri­ars since at least 1221.

One of Santa Maria Novella’s most fa­mous prod­ucts, The Queen’s Wa­ter, is a per­fume first brewed in the 16th cen­tury for Cather­ine de’ Medici, the fu­ture Queen of France, while its old­est prod­uct, Rose Wa­ter, was made and sold by the monks as far back as 1381. A less pleas­ant ori­gin sur­rounds the Vine­gar of Seven Thieves, which was a pro­tec­tion from bubonic plague, and ac­cord­ing to leg­end al­lowed seven thieves who knew the se­cret recipe to raid dis­eased house­holds with im­punity.

Santa Maria Novella is open 9am to 8pm and guided tours of the mu­seum are avail­able. Ad­mis­sion is free. Find out more at sm­

The faded grandeur of the bar­racks

The beau­ti­ful in­ter­nal court­yard of the monastery

Lazzaretto Vec­chio, seen from the air

Ren­o­vated in 2010, the Mu­seum of the Or­der of St John is one of Lon­don’s hid­den gems

Santa Maria Novella still sells its clas­sic con­coc­tions

The beau­ti­ful wa­ter­front ex­te­rior of the hos­pi­tal

Sint-janshospitaal houses a col­lec­tion of re­li­gious art

Glazed earth­en­ware jars used to keep oil

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