The Lazareti of Dubrovnik: An Additional Protection

Dubrovnik is one of the world's most famous cities, and the Pearl of the Adriatic is known all over the globe for its rich history, culture and iconic walls. 

But look a little deeper, and you will learn a few more interesting facts about the city of stone jutting out into the Adriatic. Many people know, for example, that slavery was abolished here over 600 years ago (long before the founding of the United States), but did you also know that Dubrovnik was also the first place in the world to introduce quarantine?

Dubrovnik's thick walls may have prevented the city from successful attack for centuries, but no amount of impressive fortifications could keep the scourge of disease and plague at bay. Dubrovnik's prominence as a major trade and shipping point meant that products (and diseases) from all over the world made their way to southern Dalmatia. Back in 1377, it was decided by the city council to add a later of protection to the health of its citizens by requiring sailors arriving from suspicious lands to spend a month on the nearby uninhabited islands of Mrkan, Bobara and Supetar with their potentially dangerous cargo in quarantine, before they were finally allowed to unload their wares in Dubrovnik warehouses.

The poor conditions on these islands meant that this was only a temporary solution, and eventually a more permanent situation was conceived in the form of Lazzarettos (Lazareti in Croatian), a series of interconnnected buildings which provided a more accessible and acceptable quarantine option. Included in the lazareti were guards, gravediggers, cleaners, priests and barbers.

Initial lazareti were constructed in Danče and on Lokrum, but the best-known (and best-preserved) lazareti are to be found just 300m from the Dubrovnik city walls to the east. Initially made from wood so that they could be easily burned to the ground in case of plague, the lazareti in time became a warren of stone buildings whose purpose has changed considerably over time.

The decision of the government of the Republic of Ragusa to construct the Dubrovnik lazareti dates back to 1590, and the impressive maze of courtyards and porches was initially used as a major quarantine transit centre for goods of all kinds. Over time, its strategic position meant that it was used for military purposes, and they were twice badly damaged by fire, in the latter half of the 19th century and then again at the end of World War I.

The lazareti today are enjoying a new lease of life, one which could hardly have been imagined when they were first conceived – tourism. As a picturesque addition to the old town, the lazareti have become an important entertainment, cultural and trade centre, as well as an atmospheric place for a walk and good view. It has also become something of a creative quarter for the city's artists, and in 2017, the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds granted the City of Dubrovnik around 4.5 million euro for a project entitled Lazzarettos – Creative Neighbourhood of Dubrovnik.

A fascinating history of a spectacular part of the city which played an important part in ensuring the health of Dubrovnik's citizens, just as it down with tourism today. 

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