Dubrovnik knows how to put people under quarantine

The Medieval city state was the first in Europe to set up such a system in 1377

Just off the imposing walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia’s medieval citadel city, lies a complex of small stone houses known simply as the Lazarettos of Dubrovnik. Now a tourist and art attraction, once it was a place of isolation for those arriving to the city by ship and suspected of carrying infectious diseases, AP reports.

Dubrovnik was the first city in Europe to set up a quarantine system, in 1377, as protection from leprosy, a bacterial illness that affects the nerves, skin and the respiratory organs. Initially, newcomers were kept on nearby islands in wooden huts that were later burned down, later on a special complex was designed.

The Lazarettos complex was built in the 17th century when authorities decided to set up the quarantine area closer to the harbor. The complex at the time was “the biggest state investment in public health,” a local historian explains adding that “throughout history, the rules of quarantine were unchanged.”

Those rules envisaged that travelers and tradesmen coming from regions affected with leprosy, plague or other diseases must stay at least 20 days in isolation. The time limit later was extended to 40 days, or ‘quaranta’ in Italian, giving the practice its future name. The idea has been the same all along - isolation would keep the disease out of the way. Unfortunately, sometimes the effect was just the opposite, as many people were packed into a small area.

In the Lazarettos, people always were kept separate from the goods, everyone was registered and all their belongings listed. There were 10 halls, separated by courtyards and surrounded by walls, with their own sewage system and a manager. “Inside the quarantine, there was a lot of business going on because you had many travellers and many tradesmen at the same place so they were exchanging information, they were writing letters, playing cards and so on,” the historian said.

Normally packed with tourists all year long, the streets of Dubrovnik are now deserted and its otherwise bustling airport has been shut down. Throughout Croatia, restrictive measures have been introduced to try to limit the sway of the new coronavirus. Several cases have been recorded in Dubrovnik, known as a UNESCO heritage site and a filming location for the “Game of Thrones" series.

Centuries later, quarantine-like measures have been reintroduced across the globe, but now there is one huge difference. “People in the past didn’t know. They believed it was God’s wrath. They didn’t know how the disease spreads or how they could protect themselves. Today it seems, with all this, if we behave in a responsible manner, each and every one of us, it will be all right,” the historian concludes.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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