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The Story of Lazareto Island

For decades Menorcans could only look out at the Illa del Llatzeret (Lazareto island) in the Harbour of Mahón.

San Felipet, Island of San Lazareto

This former quarantine station, still owned by the State Ministry of Health, was closed to the public. However, for the first time in 2013 it opened its doors and revealed its secrets to inquisitive visitors.

Fear of Plague

In the eighteenth century, as trade opened up around the world, the spread of infectious diseases was a very real concern. British Quarantine Acts were passed at this time and orders were given for a quarantine station, or lazaretto, that would service the busy port of Mahón to be built in the harbour. Work began in 1793, using much of the stone from the recently-ruined fortress of Sant Felipe; it was completed in 1817 and was in use for another 100 years.

Need for Isolation

The lazaretto would be the first destination for any ship entering Mahón Harbour in the nineteeth and early twentieth centuries. It is separated into a number of zones: some housed passengers and crew who were suspected of disease, others for those who were definitely infected, others for medical staff who looked after the patients, and also areas for livestock and vegetable growing.

In each zone you can find warehouses where merchandise from the ships was laid out to air, or sterilised with dew or smoke if necessary. Although the original focus of the lazaretto was to combat plague, it also took patients with other infectious diseases such as cholera and yellow fever. Their quarantine period would depend on a number of factors: the disease, the place the boats originated from, and the time of the year. It could vary from around 3 weeks to up to 6 months!

Visiting Lazareto Island

Since 2013 it has been possible to go to the island during the summer months, although it is best to check at the time of your visit. If you’re staying in one of our holiday homes in Es Grau or in Sant Climent, you can reach the island in less than 20 minutes by car, followed by a picturesque boat trip to reach the lazaretto. A guided tour gives you an excellent opportunity to admire the impressive buildings and feel the history of the place come alive.

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