Armenians constitute one of the oldest foreign communities in Venice and were firmly established there as early as the 12th century. In fact, there is a street in Venice called Calle dei Armeni (Street of the Armenians). On that street sits the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross (Surp Khach / Santa Croce), the oldest consistently operating church in La Serenissima (an Italian nick-name for Venice).
The Mkhitarian Brotherhood, a Catholic order of Armenian priests, was founded in the 16th century by Mkhitar of Sepastia (Sivas). The Mkhitarians offered a true renaissance to the Armenian people and created a remarkable printing press on the island of San Lazzaro (Surp Ghazar), just off of the main island of Venice. The library of the Armenian Mkhitarian Monastery on San Lazzaro contains over 150,000 books and 4,000 manscripts. Lord Byron studied the Armenian language at San Lazzaro.
Two wealthy Armenians from India established an internationally-renowned Armenian school in Venice in 1836 and named it Moorat Raphaelian. The school produced graduates such as poet Taniel Varoujan and painter Edgard Chahin. Shortly after celebrating its 160th anniversary, the school closed its doors due to financial burdens. Currently the Palazzo Zenobio, the grand palace that housed Moorat Raphaelian (and, also, the set of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” video) is being operated by the Mkhitarian Brotherhood as a hostel for travelers to Venice. http://www.hostelsclub.com/hostel-en-1515.html
This summer, the University of Venice Ca Foscari will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Armenian language summer program. Lasting approximately three weeks, this unique summer course offers students around the world an opportunity to start Armenian language lessons, improve their reading skills, or delve enthusiastically into the study of Armenian literature. A cultural program, as well, the program attracts a wide range of individuals interested in learning more about Armenian heritage and language. For more information, please go to: www.padus-araxes.com
An Italian TV station recently featured a program on the Armenians of Venice. The twenty-minute Italian-language program is available at: http://www.video.mediaset.it/video/frontiere_dello_spirito/puntate/115207/armenia-la-storia-continua-a-venezia.html.