Why is it the visit to San Lazzaro degli Armeni island so important?

If you are coming to Venice for more than just a couple of days or if you are a repeater, we suggest you to come here and visit the splendid Island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni.

Many things, in fact, happened here in the past so that now a visit here is certainly recommended.

What to visit in San Lazzaro degli Armeni: a bit of history

what to visit in the island of san lazzaro degli armeni - cloister of st lazare
Cloister of San Lazzaro degli Armeni (photo by (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

This small island of the Venice lagoon was known in ancient times because it was inhabited by the Benedictine monks in the XI century.

In the XII century this little spot of the Venetian lagoon was used as a quarantine place. In fact, it was a leper colony, a hospital for people with leprosy. Therefore, the name of San Lazzaro. In fact, San Lazzaro (St. Lazarus) is considered to be the patron saint of lepers.

San Lazzaro degli Armeni was a leper colony for decades

While the church of San Lazzaro was being founded in the XIV century, the ownership of the hospital was transferred from the monks to the cathedral of San Pietro di Castello which, at that time, was one of the most important ones in Venice.

When leprosy finally declined in the XVI century, the hospital was no longer used and San Lazzaro was progressively abandoned.

The Dominican friars established in San Lazzaro

In the XVII century the Dominican friars escaped here from Crete, which was occupied by the Turkish. Also the Jesuits briefly settled here but by the XVIII century San Lazzaro was just ruins.

The arrival of the Armenians and the rebuilding of San Lazzaro degli Armeni

museum of the printing press in san lazzaro
The Printing Press Museum (photo by (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

Indeed, San Lazzaro degli Armeni is mostly known for the spread of the Armenian culture.

12 Armenian Monks, escaping from the Ottoman empire occupied Peloponnese, settled here. They were led by Mkhitar Sebastatsi (Mechitar in Italian), who in 1701 in Constantinople founded an Armenian order, recognized by the Pope in 1712.

They had to escape to Greece after the repression of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and then to Italy.

San Lazzaro degli Armeni given to an Armenian monk

Armenian ceramics (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC BY 2.0, flickr)
Some examples of Armenian ceramics (photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC BY 2.0, via flickr)

For all the tremendous difficulties they got through, the monks, Venice decided in 1717 to let them stay in the abandoned island. So the monks settled here, agreeing not to change the name of San Lazzaro. That's why it is now called San Lazzaro degli Armeni and that's how the Armenian culture began to spread in Venice and in Italy.

The monks made the hospital habitable again and Mechitar planned the building of the Armenian Catholic Monastery which was ready a hundred year later. However the church and the bell tower were ready by the middle of the XVIII century.

Napoleon and the abolition of the monastic orders in Venice

When Napoleon arrived in Venice, all monastic orders were abolished, except for the Armenian one. San Lazzaro degli Armeni monks could continue living peacefully as an Academy.

Actually the XIX century was a great time for the Monastery. In fact, thanks to the institutions, the monks were able to enlarge the island itself, almost doubling its surface.

The importance of San Lazzaro continued to grow over time as we will see in the final chapter of our article.

San Lazzaro degli Armeni today: keeper of the Armenian culture in Italy

Egyptian mummy in Lord Byron's room in San Lazzaro degli Armeni
Egyptian mummy in Lord Byron's room (photo by Yerevantsi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Monastery was so important that Lord Byron also came here to study the Armenian language and culture. He studied in the so-called 'Lord Byron room' where you can also see an Egyptian mummy sent here by an Egyptian minister of Armenian origin in 1825. But of course he was not the only one to come here, and many notable men from all over the world made their journey to Venice to study here.

But in this place you will find so many wonders related to Armenian history. Armenians consider this place as a 'Little Armenia' and in fact it is one of the richest Armenian enclaves.

A collection of 150,000 to 200,000 printed books is waiting for you here.

Are you planning a visit to San Lazzaro degli Armeni during your trip to Venice Italy?

What to visit the monastery of san lazzaro in venice
The beautiful island of St Lazare in Venice (photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC BY 2.0, flickr)

If you have already seen most of Venice's attractions and you can stay longer in Italy, you should definitely come to San Lazzaro degli Armeni.

After visiting the many wonders of our country, reserve your ticket and come here. You will see what a great treasure is hidden in San Lazzaro degli Armeni. So amazing that you will not come back home.

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