San Servolo and San Lazzaro

1° stage: (2 h ) We start this itinerary leaving from St Mark’s square, where, taking line 20 from San Zaccaria in direction of San Lazzaro,  we get off after one stop onto the island of San Servolo, between San Giorgio Maggiore and San Lazzaro. This island was recuperated by the Provincial Direction with intentions of becoming a re-launching engine of Venetian life through initiatives that elevate its vocation at international dialogue, comparing to cultures and experiences and give fame to the richness of memories and history it is a cradle of. Today this island has a function of cultural, social and formation development, housing since 1997 the Venice International University, an international school born to offer formative proposals of diverse universities to students from all over the world, in a contest of integration and interchange with the handicraft world. San Servolo houses also the European Centre of Venice for professions of conserving of architectural patrimony, where every year hundreds of youngsters, coming from all over the world, attend its courses, living the experience of the historic centre schools used four or five centuries ago. An experience that makes Venice, once more, a great city promoter of art, headquarters of schools that had been for centuries a breeding ground of European art. In short, the memory’s duty. Through the Foundation San Servolo and the Institute for Researches and Studies on Social and Cultural Marginalization, the Province of Venice intends to help the conservation, valorisation and fruition of documentary materials left in inheritance by the ancient mental hospital institution, and in the meantime, development of researches, studies and initiatives orientated towards knowledge of social and cultural marginalization. To give voice to the history of the island and the sufferings of patients the Foundation has opened in may a Museum of history of mental illness prepared with the material such as clinical files and constriction instruments discovered on the island.
A guide of the Società San Servolo Servizi will take you on a free guided visit of the Island, explaining the history and current activities on the Island, showing the historic buildings and library, and the church, by Tommaso Temanza (1747), with its frescoes by Jacopo Marieschi and its three altar paintings of Francesco Maggiotto, “The glory of St. John of God before the Virgin” and “The Three Theological Virtues”. Beside the buildings you can visit the park with its variety of ancient trees: the Canary Island palm that welcomes visitors to the Island, the large American agave plants, the tall palm of Chusan from Japan, the large Aleppo pines bent over almost to ground level by the wind, and the centuries-old olive tree. The Park of San Servolo also contains the traces of a rustic orchard, a living testimony to its past as a convent garden cultivated by monks, nuns and the priests who ran the hospital.

After the visit, you could stop at the island canteen for lunch (10 euros per person) and then take a waterbus again and continue towards the island of  San Lazzaro degli Armeni or go back to San Zaccaria, where you could have a break along Riva degli Schiavoni, have something to eat in the sun and take a walk enjoying the view of the basin of St Mark’s and of this part of the  central lagoon.

San Servolo dall'alto2° stage: (3 h) After the break we take again Actv line from San Zaccaria at 15.10h which will take us to, what we can define, a real and true oriental oasis in the heart of the lagoon of Venice, at the back of Lido and 2 kilometres away from Venice. On San Lazzaro we’ll be welcomed by a tree of pomegranate (Armenian national tree) found in the large square in front of the wharf, and by an Armenian Father who kindly accompanies tourists on the discovery of the island, the treasures of its monastery and history of its nation.
In fact, on the small island there is the Monastery of Armenian Fathers in whose rich library, that conserves thousands of manuscripts and precious illuminations, is possible to admire a beautiful fresco by Tiepolo, as well as works by Palma il Giovane. Enclosed in Monastery there rises the Church of San Lazzaro, of gothic origin, reconstructed in 19th century and where suggestive religious ceremonies take place, and the renaissance arcade cloister. After the visit to religious buildings we advise you not to give up a walk in the marvellous gardens that surround them. On the south side of the island the rows of pines protect from a lagoon wind the precious flowerbeds of roses that the monks cultivate with loving care and from their petals they have been producing a particular and sweet-smelling  marmalade for centuries, while on the north side the rows of cypresses, olive trees and cedars mark the boundary of the cemetery and a little pathway that runs along the city walls from where there is a splendid view of the basin of St Mark’s.

Historic outlines:
Since 9th century there had been news about the presence of Benedictines on the island of San Servolo. When some monks got transferred to the island of S. Ilario (at the extreme borders of the south lagoon, where used to stand the homonymous abbacy) the island got contested by Paduans for its strategic position, and then got abandoned in 1430 for continuous erosion.
In 1109 the Benedictines, who were still present on S. Servolo, left the island to give it to the Benedictine nuns coming from the monastery of SS. Leone e Basso, abandoned after extinction of Malamocco. At the beginning of 17th century the nuns got transferred elsewhere and in 1648 the Senate welcomed to S. Servolo the nuns coming from the island of Candia and each order followed their own rites: being again deserted, the place got given to the Fathers Hospitallers of S.Giovanni di Dio for whom the Republic had constructed a new convent, a new church and a hospital to receive the mentally ill belonging to noble classes that was consequently  opened to all social classes. S. Servolo had maintained such role up to few years ago.
A hospice for the pilgrims and the hospital since 12th century, the island of San Lazzaro got later assigned to a leper hospital, from which it took its name. At the end of epidemics, the island welcomed at first the beggars and then remained abandoned until 1717 when Serenissima gave it to abbot Mechitar, founder of the order of Armenian Fathers from whom it inherited its name it keeps to this day. The island is still today inhabited by Armenian monks who have transformed it into a cultural and religious reference point for Armenian nation. It was particularly dear to Lord Byron who used to retire here to study Armenian language.

Useful information:

Island of San Servolo
Address: Isola di S.Servolo cap 30100 - Venezia
Actv lines: 20 stop San Servolo
A service for guided visits of the Island is available. Guided tours can be requested by calling the centre between 9:30 and 17:00 every day (and on Fridays from 9:30 to 15:30).
Info and reservations:

Fondazione San Servolo IRSESC Onlus
Manager: Luigi Armiato
Address: Isola di San Servolo 30133 - Venezia
Phone: 041 2765451/2 - 041 5267871 - 041 5264909
Fax: 041 2765460 - 041 2761999


Island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni
Address: Island of S.Lazzaro degli Armeni cap 30100 - Venice
Telephone: (+39)0415260104
Visits: 15.25-17.25 (only guided tour, everyday)
Entrance fee: full € 6 reduced € 4,50
Reductions for groups (minimum 35 persons) € 4,50. Children and students € 3
Actv lines: 10/20 stop S.Lazzaro (from San Zaccaria at 15.10h)

For guided tours of Venetian gardens contact Wigwam Club Giardini Storici Venice tel. 041610791

Indicative length of journey:
one day
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