History Time: The Great Plague of Milan 1629-1631

We live in a very clean and sanitised period of time compared to hundreds of years ago. In 1629, Europe and the rest of the world was still reeling from centuries of outbreaks of bubonic plague, beginning with the Black Death in the 14th century. This was the time Milan experienced its last outbreak of disease that terrified and shut down the city.

With many soldiers moving around the Northern Italy region due to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), due to poor sanitation, the plague spread quickly throughout the area. French and German troops initially carried the disease to Mantua and then infected Venitian soldiers brought it to Milan in October 1629. At the time the city was, as it is now, the main commercial centre of Lombardy. The city initially, similarly to today, introduced measures to stop the spread of the disease. They quarantined German goods and soldiers and people tried to stay indoors away from the infected. However, despite these measures, the plague continued to grow amongst the population. During the carnival season in March 1630 the measures were relaxed and a second wave of cases hit the city. Fear and suspicion was rife, and as Alessandro Manzoni has written about, some people were put on trial and executed, accused of being ‘plague spreaders’.  When the disease arrived in the city in 1629, the population was 130,000. By the end of the plague in 1631, 60,000 people had died, nearly half the number of people living there two years before.

Of course it is interesting to note that there are some similarities between now and then. However, considering the history reminds us we are far away from a disaster such as that one currently in Milan. Thankfully we live in a much cleaner and safer world, with far better healthcare and knowledge of how illness spreads. Fingers crossed we will see a slowing of the spread of this virus and we can all go back to living as normal.

Now you know a little more about the history of the last major disease in Milan, try the below quizzes to test out your knowledge!

Plague of Milan: Definitions

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True or False: The Plague of Milan

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