The quarantine

The quarantine then and now

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The quarantine then and now

We have had to live in a secluded season, it is what it is … whether you like it or not. We can choose temper tantrums, to agree or not if it has been the best option but time will tell. We will get tired of seeing analyzes and counter-analyzes of one and the other. We will get bored with chats, monologues and epic videos of overcoming etc.

Well, enough of empty words and let’s get to the core! From Mallorca Premium Tours, we want to show you some of the ancient trades that have been disappearing or transforming from remote times to the present day. Today it is time to talk about the institutions responsible for ensuring health prevention that emerged during the fifteenth century in Europe and Mallorca as well.

The quarantine of yesterday - The board of "Morberos" or  "Morbería":

It was considered the institution responsible for ensuring public health. Among his competencies was: preventing the disembarkation of people and goods from places suspected of having the plague (often “black death”).

For an island territory such as Mallorca that suffered from problems of continuous shortage of food and basic needs, it was necessary to use maritime transport to ensure its supply. Nevertheless, sometimes with these products, the contagion of the plague was introduced on the island, and for that reason, the “Morbería” was born.

Here in Mallorca, the board of “Morberos” dates from 1475 and depended directly on the Gran i General Consell. This Council was considered the highest political-administrative body of the kingdom of Mallorca until its suppression in the 18th century.

Many coastal cities were built “Lazaretos”. A quarantine station for vessels or people from other countries contaminated or suspected of contagion.

Lazareto de Mahón -

The members

It was formed by 3 “morberos chosen annually by lottery among the estates of knights, citizens and merchants. Moreover, they had the services of a scribe or secretary, a doctor and a “morbero” surgeon. Yes, it comes from morbid!

After those lines maybe you change your mind or just add a different image in your mind…take it easy and think about us (devilish laugh of the 80s, see Austin Powers and so on).

The procedure

This institution had public health competencies and had the goal of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. For this, they controlled the arrival of any vessel, whether suspicious or not, establishing measures that they considered adequate, such as quarantine or preventive isolation.

Its mission was to control that the vessels from abroad went to the port of Palma. Once there, they were subjected to sanitary inspection and, based on the result, they could either be dismissed or quarantined for a variable period. This quarantine meant the isolation of the ship, merchandise, passengers and crew in a space called lazaretto, always protected by health guards.

Health certificates

In the first place, the captain of the ship had to display the health patents indicating all the ports where the ship had stopped. For this reason, the health authorities of each port needed to make the pertinent annotations on the back of the document. In the absence of the European consuls, health certificates issued by religious who were in charge of hospitals were also used to assist sick Christian captives, such as those in Algiers and Tunisia. Then the health prevention measures were completed with the warnings received from other ports and through the same ships visited, seeking to obtain the most reliable picture of the health situation.

At the end of the quarantine period, a new medical examination was carried out by the “Morbería” doctors before allowing free entry and trade.

Map of the lazaret -

The quarantine of yesterday - The lazaret

According to the official academy of the Spanish language:

1. m. Sanitary establishments to isolate those infected or suspected of contagious diseases.

2. m. Leper hospital.

Lazarettos in Mallorca

In Mallorca we also had important cases of isolation, here is an excerpt from the chronicles of Mallorca Cronicon Mayoricense de Alvaro Campaner y Fuertes de 1229 – 1800.

The year 1652

“February.—A boat with three men and fabrics from Catalonia arrived at the Torre Picada of the town of Sóller, which brought to the island the contagion that reigned in the peninsula. Deaths began in the same tower, and from there the plague spread to Sóller, the city of Palma, Alaró, Inca, Petra, Sineu, Sta. Margarita, La Puebla, Buñola, Selva, Campanet, Valldemosa, Andraitx and Lluchmayor. The plague reached its peak in July, August and September, during which there were days of two hundred deaths in the city and many others in Inca, not missing a day of six hundred deaths in the capital alone.

At this time, various buildings of the Rafal de Son Hugo, that of the sacristan Zaforteza, the houses of the Archdeacon of the same name, those of the Rafal Son Pardo, the fort of Camp Pelai, were destined for lazarettos. Many sheds were built there, such as the Itria convent and the Jesus convent. After that communication between the city and towns was interrupted. A line or cord was established in the Coll den Rebassa where the towns had to resist whatever supplies they had. The epidemic began to decline in October, and in December the doors and traffic with the interior of the island were already opened”.

December 1652

Mallorca was isolated for about 10 months. During that tragic year, 15424 deaths were calculated. Sometime later, a cemetery was set up outside the city walls, behind the convent of Jesus to bury the people and another place for the ecclesiastics also victims of this disease, next to the church of San Magín.

The quarantine of yesterday - Thoughts

By writing these lines we have realized that perhaps we are not so extraordinarily exclusive beings and that we are not living completely new and unprecedented events.

This European maritime health organization did not manage to completely avoid pests. Although it did reduce its expansion considerably, as it did in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. What will these nationwide security systems become for future pests? Will COVID-19 be the trigger for new geopolitical agreements or the slap that makes us change the vanishing point?


  • ARM , AH , Sanidad, legajo 763/46.
  • Cortés Verdaguer, J.M: “Notas sobre la sanidad marítima mallorquina en el siglo XVIII”, BSAL, 57, 2001, pp. 163-171.
  • Cortés Verdaguer, J.M.: ““La prevención sanitaria en Mallorca (1718-1756)”, Estudio, Tiempo y Forma, Serie IV, Historia Moderna, T. 3, 2000, pp. 421-426.
  • CLARAMUNT, S., “El Estudio General de Medicina”, Privilegi de creació de l’Estudi General de Medicina de Barcelona 1401, Publicacions Ub, 2001.
  • Web [En línia – 23/03/2020]

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