Poveglia Island is a small island located between Venice and Lido, Italy. 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 itself, a world renowned tourist attraction is to the north. Several small islands are scattered in the Laguna Veneta between these two gems, each their own unique form of beauty. Each except for one that is, Poveglia island; a place that is considered one of the most haunted and most evil places in the world. A place so dammed that no one lives there and the few daring souls who try to visit, then return to the mainland visibly shaken and tight-lipped about their experience. The locals won’t even try to approach the island by boat and fishermen avoid the waters for fear of catching human bones in their nets.
From a distance, Poveglia appears to be a sparkling gem atop a shimmering sea, with magnificent architecture including a bell tower which dates back to the 12th century. Housing, a church, a hospital, and an asylum make up the rest of the remaining buildings on the island. Also directly off the island’s tip are the remains of an octagonal fort which historians can date back to 1645. At the time, the Venetian government built five such forts to guard the entrance of the lagoon. Not much remains but loose stones and earth surrounded by the remnants of the outer wall. Yet despite this fairy-tale beauty, Poveglia island has a population of zero, and for good reasons.
Origins and the Black Plague
To truly understand the reason why it’s uninhabited, we need to understand the island’s history. It was first inhabited in the year 421, mainly by rag-tag bands of commoners who were trying to escape from one of the many different barbarian hordes than frequently invaded the mainland. The island was so small and off the beaten path that it was virtually ignored. Sometime prior to the year 1300, the island was abandoned for reasons unspecific, but not related to anything evil. In 1348, the Bubonic Plague made it’s first visit to Europe and Poveglia island was used to isolate plague victims. 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 is fairly easy to figure out, yet the story doesn’t end there. The island was left alone until centuries later when the Black Death of 1630 swept across the civilized areas of Europe. The island was again used as a place to separate the bodies of plague victims from the healthy and living, virtually becoming a huge cemetery and crematorium. Dead bodies were dumped into large pits and often burned to halt the spread of the virus. Yet shipping the dead infected bodies to remote places like Poveglia seemed to have little effect in slowing the Black Death. People were ever vigilant, nearly to the point of fearful panic, which led to a purge across Italy. Any person who showed the slightest sign of infection were rounded up like prisoners and relocated to the island of Poveglia. Despite their cries for mercy, men, women, and even children were forcibly thrown into the pits, often falling onto piles of rotting corpses and without mercy set ablaze. In scenes that were eerily similar to witch trials, these poor souls were burned alive, dying in terrible pain and agony. It’s estimated that the tiny island saw as many as 160,000 corpses during the time of the Black Death.
The Asylum and Ghosts of the Past
Not much history was publicized about the island in the years between the plagues and afterwards. We know that the island was avoided and there were many ghost stories associated with it. In the late 1800’s, Poveglia became home to an asylum. The asylum was used as a place of exile rather than rehabilitation and the patients were mistreated and ignored by the staff. In 1922, a psychiatric hospital was added to the ever-growing list of uncomfortable structures on the island. From the opening, patients started reporting both sightings of plague-era ghosts and hearing screams and wails of those who were burned alive, all through the night. Yet, as with the asylum, the patients were ignored and their reports written off as those of insane people.
There are rumors, the type that would be discounted if they originated from somewhere else, that in the 1930s, one particular doctor made the lives of those patients even worse than before. He was known is have performed strange experiments on the patients in his quest to find a cure for insanity. Lobotomies were performed on patients using crude tools like hand drills, chisels, and hammers. Other patients were rumored taken to the bell tower where they were tortured and subjected to a number of inhumane horrors.
Believers of the story say that after many years of performing these unspeakable acts of human depravity, the doctor also began to see the ghosts his patients had so long 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, the fall did not kill him, instead leaving him alive but immobile and in immense pain. That was until a sickly mist poured forth from the land and slowly choked the life from his injured body.
Modern Day Haunt
By the mid-20th century, 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 agricultural uses of the island. In recent years, Italian construction crews attempted to restore the former hospital building, but abruptly stopped without explanation, leaving locals to speculate that 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 but they left the first night there and 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 book 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 on their experiences.