Poveglia Island is a small island off the Italian coast, located between Venice and Lido. Lido, to the east, is known for being the host of the annual Venice Film Festival; it’s shops and beaches complimentary to the tourist trade. Venice, a world renowned tourist attraction is to the north. Several other small islands are scattered in the Laguna Veneta between these two gems. Each island has its own charm and unique form of beauty. Poveglia Island has neither characteristic. In fact, the island has a history of darkness and pain. It is considered by many as the most haunted and most evil place in the world. A place so dammed that no one dares to live there. The few who risked a quick visit returned to the mainland visibly shaken and tight-lipped about their experience. The island is not a place for the living. The local fishermen avoid the waters for fear of catching human bones in their nets. Poveglia Island is wretched place.
From a distance, one could easily be charmed by profile of the island. Poveglia is a sparkling gem atop a shimmering sea. Remains of its architecture, including a bell tower which dates back to the 12th century, are magnificent to see. Other buildings complete the complex, including a church, some houses, a hospital, and an asylum. Also directly off the island’s tip are the remains of an octagonal fort. These ruins date back to 1645. The Venetian government built them to provide security for the lagoon entrance. The remains are minimal. Rows of loose stones and earth are surrounded by the remnants of the outer wall. The island seems to have it all on the surface, but what lies hidden also keeps it uninhabited.
Early History and the Black Plague
To history of the island reveals the many reasons why it’s uninhabited. The tale begins back in the year 421. The first inhabitants were rag-tag bands people from the mainland. They were trying to escape from one of the many different barbarian hordes than frequently invaded. The island was so small and off the beaten path that it was virtually ignored. This made it a safe place, or so it seemed. Sometime prior to the year 1300, the island was abandoned, but it’s not known why. In 1348 when the Bubonic Plague made it’s first deadly visit to Europe, Poveglia island was used to isolate victims. It was an island where people went to die a horrible death. It was far enough away from the mainland that even prevailing winds weren’t considered a factor in spreading the disease.
The fate of most of those early plague victims was tragic. The island was a place of suffering and death, both prime contributors to haunted places. But this story doesn’t end with just one dark and tragic event. The island was abandoned again after the plague. However, centuries later (1630) the Black Death once again swept across the civilized areas of Europe. The island was also once again put into service. This time it was used as a place to deal with the bodies of plague victims; virtually becoming a huge crematorium and burial ground. Bodies were dumped into large pits and burned. It was believed that cremation would halt the spread of the virus. Yet in reality, sending the dead infected bodies to remote places like Poveglia island had no effect on slowing the Black Death.
As the plague ravaged the lands, purges became common. Those who showed even the slightest sign of infection were rounded up like prisoners and relocated to the Poveglia island. One can only imagine their cries for mercy. Overcrowding led to infected men, women, children thrown into the pits and along with the rotting corpses. They were set ablaze without mercy and burned alive. This second horrible event created yet another reason for a haunting. It’s estimated that the tiny island saw as many as 160,000 corpses during the time of the Black Death. When the work was done, Poveglia island was again abandoned.
The Asylum and Ghosts of the Past
As if it was resting, the island produced no new news in the post-plague years. If anyone settled there, they left no records. Mainland people avoided the island as it was believed to be haunted. The first ghost stories emerged sometime in this period also. Yet, fear put aside, in late 1800’s Poveglia island became the permanent home to an asylum. As the island was with the plague victims, the asylum was with its patients. It was a place of exile rather than rehabilitation. The patients were mistreated and mostly ignored by the staff. Yet on the outside the asylum was a success. In 1922, a psychiatric hospital was constructed. The builders must have disturbed something deep and sinister while putting in the foundation. From its opening, hospital patients reported seeing the grotesque shadowy figures of plague-era ghosts while simultaneously hearing the screams and wails of those being burned alive. Yet, as with the asylum, the patients were mostly ignored. Their sightings were listed in their reports as delusional behavior and summarily written off as the rankings of the insane.
Most of what happened on Poveglia island was shrouded in secrecy. There are rumors. Stories that make your skin crawl and your body twitch. Stories that you would never believe about somewhere else. But when a story about a 1930’s doctor was whispered in dark corners, you believed. It was rumored that he made the lives of his patients even worse than before they arrived. He was believed to have performed strange surgical experiments on the patients in his quest to find a cure for insanity. Some spoke of Lobotomies being performed using crude tools like hand drills, chisels, and hammers. Patients taken to the bell tower never returned. It was a place of inhuman torture and painful death.
The tale doesn’t end there. Believers of the story state that doctor became a victim of his own bad behavior. After years of performing unspeakable acts of human depravity, the doctor too saw the ghosts his patients had reported. It is also said that those spirits led him to the top of the bell tower where he jumped or was thrown by a supernatural force to the ground below. Yet, that fall did not kill him, instead leaving him alive but immobile and in immense pain. That was until a sickly mist crept in, concealing everything. While surrounded by the choking fog, something slowly choked the life from his injured body.
Another huge event of pain, death, depravity and fear. The ghost of the past were already making their presence known. The asylum and hospital did nothing but add another layer to the building cesspool of despair, punishment and savagery.
Modern Day Haunt
The hospital closed eventually and the island was again left to wait. The wait wasn’t long, in the 1950’s the facility was converted into a home for the elderly, but which closed between 1968 and 1975, depending on whom you ask. After that, there were some brief agricultural uses of the island, but none lasted too long. Developers have tried several times to renovate the old buildings. In one instance a construction crew was awarded the job to restore the former hospital building. Shortly after starting they abruptly stopped and left without explanation. The locals say they didn’t quit. They were driven away by the island’s dark forces.
The Italian government has tried several times to generate interest in the island. A family recently sought to buy the island and build a holiday home on it. They left Poveglia island after their first night there and have refused to comment on what happened. The only fact that we do know is that their daughters face was ripped open and required fourteen stitches. In 2014, the 18 acre island was sold as part of a 99 year lease for just under one-half million dollars by an Italian businessman. He has not decided on what he’ll be doing with the accursed property.
Several psychics and author Ransom Riggs have visited the island and the abandoned hospital. Each of them left scared to death of what they had sensed there and none have returned. Police patrols keep the curious away from their attempts to explore the island. Once in a while someone gets past the patrols and upon their return are visibly and permanently shaken from their experience.
The tortured dead from multiple events have combined. The amount of negative energy is enormous. Suffering, pain and hate fill the spiritual conduits that surround the island. The dead of many tragedies are not crossed over. They haunt Poveglia island.