Tours of this historic island monastery are usually conducted by its multilingual Armenian monks, who amply demonstrate the institution’s reputation for scholarship. The St Lazarus Monastery is a fascinating repository of Armenian history, art and culture – and much more besides. Significant manuscripts from its 170,000-item library are on display, alongside curios from Ancient Egypt, Rome, Sumeria and India.
In the 18th century, the monks set up a polyglot printing press here and translated many scientific and literary works into and out of Armenian, publishing 3000 books in a variety of languages. Tours traverse the cloister, refectory, library, museum and glittering church, taking in a ceiling fresco by Tiepolo and a headless Roman statue along the way. An Egyptian mummy and a pair of 15th-century Indian thrones are the quirky main features of the room dedicated to the memory of Lord Byron, who spent six months here in 1816 helping the monks to prepare an English-Armenian dictionary. True to his eccentric nature, he could often be seen swimming from the island to the Grand Canal.
Take the 3.10pm vaporetto number 20 from San Zaccaria to arrive in time for the tour; bookings aren't required.