Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 March 2020
More than two hundred years ago, in 1801, Marseille lay burning in the sun. Its harbor was full of the eerie spectacle of ships sitting silently, onto which no one boarded and from which no one disembarked. The most crowded spot in the city was not one of its public markets, squares, or churches, but a massive complex that sat on its northern edge, abutting the sea: the Lazaretto of Arenc. This fortress, at the time, served as France’s most important quarantine station. It was legally mandated as the reception point for almost all ships and passengers entering the nation from the Middle East and North Africa, and employees there prided themselves on their efficiency and rigor in managing the threat of bubonic plague.