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San Lazzaro degli Armeni

Venice's Armenian island

Library/museum at San Lazzaro

One of the smaller islands just west of the Lido, with a landmark onion-domed campanile, San Lazzaro was Venice’s leper colony in the Middle Ages, and was long deserted when in 1715 it was given to the Armenian noble and monk, Manug di Pietro, after he was expelled from the Peloponnese by the Turks.

It is one of the most fascinating, under-visited sites in Venice. Armenians have lived in the city since the 13th century, and their presence is maintained by these islanders, the Mechitarist Fathers of the Armenian Catholic Church, who have made San Lazzaro one of the major centres of Armenian culture. The monks are noted linguists, and its famous polyglot press is able to print in 32 languages – one of the last presses to remain in a city once celebrated for its publishing. It was the only island monastery to survive Napoleon's conquest – thanks to an Armenian in the French bureaucracy.

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Lagoon and islands

Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Creative Commons