A Mysterious Armenian Island in Venice

So, we’ll go no more a roving

   So late into the night,

Though the heart be still as loving,

   And the moon be still as bright.

LORD BYRON

San Lazzaro degli Armeni

There is a small island just 20 minutes by vaporetto from Piazza San Marco, just in front of that long strip of land that is Lido

It is the Island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, a mysterious place that houses a monastery where the Armenian Mechitarist Fathers still live. A small and peaceful island so squared that it looks like it was drawn with a ruler, which holds many treasures inside.

Why did some Armenian monks decided to settle in this island?

The Island of San Lazzaro

In the 9th century the Benedictines monks lived there. Later the island was used as a home for the sick and a leper colony; (see the story of the Lazzaretto here). The small island was then abandoned and remained desolate until the early 1700s, when it was identified by Father Mechitar as the ideal place to build a monastery. Ideal or not, Father Mechitar, founder of the order that today takes his name, really needed a place to be because he and his brotherhood were fleeing Armenia which was persecuted by the Turks. 

Another good reason for the Armenian monks to settle there was that Venice was one of the most important Press Centers in Europe, and the task of the monks was to preserve the culture of the Armenian people

Therefore they founded a multilingual printing house, which over time became an important center of culture; today the beautiful library of convent contains over 4,500 original manuscripts.

Unfortunately I was not allowed to take pictures there. I was trtuly sorry since there were magninificent manuscripts, beautifully decorated, and very precious miniature books. In addition to manuscripts, the monastery also contains treasures of inestimable value, such as precious artifacts from China and Japan and Egyptian mummies dated 8th century BC, in excellent condition.

When Napoleon invaded Venice, he sacked and destroyed all the monasteries in the surrounding area, but spared the monastery of San Lazzaro.  The Monastery was considered to all intents and purposes an academy of sciences and studies and therefore could take advantage of imperial protection.

Lord Byron  San Lazzaro

Lord Byron also passed by the island and stayed there about two years to study Armenian, before leaving for Greece and fighting together with the Greeks for independence from the Turks. There is a plaque at the entrance of the monastery in his memory and a beautiful portrait in the library too.

Armenian Culture Center

Today, the monastery is still enveloped in a mystical and enlightened atmosphere, and it tells a lot about Armenian culture and history. In the inner courtyard there is a series of interesting slides relating to the bloody genocide suffered by the Armenian population by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1916.

Nearly 2 million people were deported and massacred. 

History sometimes seems to be too silent about this (and others) horrendous crimes.

USEFUL INFORMATION

The island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni can be reached by vaporetto which leaves from the San Zaccaria station – line 20

The monks open the doors of the convent to the public every day, and it is possible to take guided tours every day from 15.30 to 17.30 (6 € per person). It used to be without prior reservation, but these days it is better to call ahead.

Phone: +39 041.5260104

Email (prenotazione biglietti): visitesanlazzaro@gmail.com

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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