The Italian Origins of the Word Quarantine

It all began in the 17th century in Venice with the term quaranta giorni (forty days).

Currently, we’re inundated with the coronavirus news and the word quarantine, especially as the world scrambles to contain a virus they don’t quite understand. Now that Italy has become one of the hot spots outside of China, many travelers returning home to other EU countries from Northern Italy are being placed in quarantine. Lombardy has been the area hit the hardest, but Veneto is seeing its own share of cases. Yours truly is a resident of Veneto, and just two days ago the city center of Treviso was markedly subdued; less traffic, fewer pedestrians, more closed businesses. Theaters, street markets, and schools are closed until further notice.

As the coronavirus hits Italy, ItalyWise explores the origin of the word quarantine.

So, I guess you can see we’re already moving into a form of self-quarantine in order to stem the spread of this virus while doctors and researchers race to understand it better and develop effective (hopefully) treatments. Only time will tell if this situation is reasonably contained or if it spreads more widely to the rest of the country.

Veneto residents are more than familiar with how the word quarantine came into being.

The Black Death, also called The Black Plague, wiped out a solid 30% of Europe’s population. Venice was particularly hard hit, and in an attempt to protect itself, the city made incoming ships anchor offshore for forty days or quaranta giorni. This was to prevent even more of the disease from being brought into the city by passengers and boat crews.

Read more about the history of the word on Wikipedia.

Will Veneto residents find ourselves in a modern-day quarantine?

As of yet, strict quarantine measures are limited to a handful of towns in Lombardy. Trains are not allowed to make stops in these towns and residents are not allowed to leave. Perimeters are monitored. People have limited movement within their communities in order to stock up on provisions while they wait this out and hopefully protect themselves.

But I’m fully aware we could see this happening in Veneto, especially since Venice is a city crowded with tourists. And, this all started hitting as Carnevale was hitting the home stretch. Hopefully, we’ll find out that the contagion was limited in spite of conditions ripe for its spread.

Hunkered down in Umbria.

I’m currently here in “The Green Heart of Italy” for a previously scheduled trip to prune an out-of-control wisteria plant and other shrubs. When it’s in full bloom it’s glorious, but its starting to strangle the pergola and slip its aggressive fingers through the wooden shutters. February to mid-March is my best chance to rein it in!

No, I haven’t put myself in quarantine, and I have a train back to Treviso in just a few days. I’ll be watching the news closely to see if my return is in any way affected. I can’t imagine that it would be in such a short period of time, but then again, we’re in uncharted waters with the coronavirus. Hopefully, we’ll not see the likes of quarantines lasting quaranta giorni!

By |2020-02-26T11:59:57+01:00February 26th, 2020|Exploring the Veneto, Italian Culture, Living in Italy|18 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Kate May 19, 2020 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    I love reading all your blogs 🙂 The last sentence of this one struck me…“Hopefully we’ll not see the likes of quarantines lasting quaranta giorni” LOL does this mean we need to come up with a new word?!

    • Jed May 19, 2020 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      I wrote that many weeks ago and before so much water had passed under the bridge! It’s odd to think about that now, realizing that we here in Italy blew past forty days! I’m glad you enjoy my blogs! Thanks for writing!

  2. Jennifer February 27, 2020 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    As usual, it’s wonderful to find your post in my in-box. I’m glad you have Umbria for a safe harbor. I am picturing you there now and wish we could go for a walk in the beautiful countryside together. The personal experience of the international event is interesting. Don’t get any closer! Much love.

    • Jed March 7, 2020 at 8:17 pm - Reply

      I’m so happy to hear from you, Jennifer. You know from personal experience how restorative and peaceful Umbria can be for a safe harbor. Currently, I’m back in Treviso and much closer to the “action.” I’m keeping my distance, hunkering down most of the day in our beautiful place in the city center, and doing plenty of handwashing. I’m also making sure to get plenty of rest! Miss you! Lots of love right back to you! Jed

  3. Tony February 27, 2020 at 1:39 am - Reply

    Stay safe and healthy. I was saddened to learn about the outbreak in Italy. Umbria might be a great place to be for a while.

    • Jed March 7, 2020 at 8:19 pm - Reply

      We’re staying as safe and healthy as possible, Tony. We’re hunkering down in our Treviso home and catching up on projects. It’s a different world to be living in these days!

  4. Robin February 26, 2020 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    Very interesting post. We have canceled a trip to Thailand as a result of the virus. We are watching the news daily. The impact of this virus to the global economy is mind boggling.
    While you are in Umbria, we would love to see you.

    • Jed March 7, 2020 at 8:23 pm - Reply

      Ciao Robin. You guys are wise to stay put in your Umbrian paradise until we all get greater clarity and can have some confidence that a workable plan of action is being implemented vs. “scrambling.” Hope to see you soon. xoxox Jed

  5. Elizabeth A F Wholey February 26, 2020 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Good to hear from you Jed. Keep us informed and stay healthy!

    • Jed February 26, 2020 at 8:52 pm - Reply

      You too, Elizabeth. Are you hunkered down in your neck of the woods? Miss you!

  6. Kathryn Smith February 26, 2020 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    So interested to hear this. I have been thinking of you and Simone as the virus popped up in northern Italy. Keep us posted!

    • Jed February 26, 2020 at 8:51 pm - Reply

      Good to hear from you, my dear Kathryn. Go figure that Northern Italy would end up being one of the global hot spots for this virus. But, I guess everyone wants to come to Italy. I’ll update as I know more. Fingers crossed.

  7. Stephanie February 26, 2020 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    I’m praying that you stay safe. You are so precious to me. Love you Jed!

    • Jed February 26, 2020 at 8:49 pm - Reply

      Thank you, my dear friend. I’m staying away from crowds (haven’t been to the gym for weeks, but that was because of flu season and I hadn’t had my yearly vaccine until 3 weeks ago!). Love you too, Stephanie!

  8. angela February 26, 2020 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    Hi Jed. I’ve been thinking of you for days. Watching RAI daily. Thanks for the update. Please keep us posted.

    • Jed February 26, 2020 at 8:47 pm - Reply

      Ciao Angela, What a crazy world we live in. A Treviso doctor tested positive for the coronavirus today. I’m nervous to see what tomorrow’s news brings. Thanks for writing! Jed

  9. Beth S. Zuercher February 26, 2020 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    Jed, How bout hopping on a plane and coming back home to S.C./ Clemson? We’d love to see you and my nephew, Benji lives there. I live in Columbia,SC now and ya’ll could come here, too!

    Take care and let me hear from you! I enjoy reading a about your excursions in Italy!

    Beth Skinner Zuercher

    • Jed February 26, 2020 at 8:46 pm - Reply

      Hi Beth, I’d so love a trip back to SC and to Clemson. My sister Dale lives in Columbia (Irmo). That’s an easy drive. But, for now I think I’m “grounded” until things settle down.

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