The Forbidding Little Adriatic Island Where Quarantine Began

From Its 14th-Century Roots, the Ritual of Self-Isolation During Plagues Offers Insights on Our Current Situation

The island of Mrkan, one of over a thousand islands off the Dalmatian coast, is both idyllic and grim. Its precipitous pale cliffs, set against the turquoise Adriatic Sea, make it look like an impenetrable fortress. Indeed, a few centuries ago, it was a place to dread. It was where you waited to see whether you would die.

The Black Death hit Europe from 1346 to 1353 and gave us the word “quarantine.” Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik, Croatia) was the first city known to establish quarantine for all ships wishing to land …