San Lazzaro degli Armeni – Lido, Italy - Atlas Obscura
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Lido, Italy

San Lazzaro degli Armeni

Originally a leper colony, the island is now an Armenian monastery home to an incredible manuscript library. 

Originally a medieval leper colony, this tiny artificial island within the Venetian Lagoon is now a trove of Armenian cultural treasures.

Upon the invasion of the Ottoman empire, several Armenian Catholic monks fled to Venice in 1715 and received the island San Lazzaro in 1717 from the Venetian Senate. They built a monastery, which houses an abundance of historical, artistic, and religious gems.

The little island is now one of the leading centers for Armenian studies. The first complete dictionary written in the Armenian language and the first modern history of the country were printed within the monastery’s walls.

The Mekhitarist monks who maintain the monastery view its extensive, historical manuscript collection as the crown jewel. Its manuscript room houses the world’s third largest collection of Armenian publications, as well as other works from Europe and Asia. The wealth of knowledge stored inside the monastery is so impressive that when Napoleon abolished nearly every single monastery in Venice, he allowed the Armenian monks to continue operating it as an academy.

Napoleon wasn’t the only notable figure who took an interest in the monastery. Lord Byron, the famous 19th-century English poet, spent a stint on the island studying Armenian culture and language. Today, the “Lord Byron Room” is part of the island’s museum which holds a fascinating mixture of Oriental and Egyptian artifacts, including an intricate ivory ball containing several spheres carved from a single piece of ivory by a Buddhist monk who allegedly spent over 20 years creating the work, as well as the remarkably well-preserved mummy of an Egyptian priest. 

Know Before You Go

The vaporetto to the island leaves at San Zaccaria, close to Saint Mark's square. There is only one tour a day in the winter, the vaporetto leaves around 3 p.m. It is recommended to check beforehand.