Poveglia Island’s Dark & Haunted History

Poveglia is a tiny Italian island located in the South Lagoon between Lido and Venice.

When viewed from afar, it looks rather calm and inviting — with its small pier and abundance of greenery.

However, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Despite its humble appearance, Poveglia’s history is marked by plenty of fear, suffering, and paranormal phenomena.

Early History Of Poveglia

According to ancient chronicles, Poveglia’s history dates all the way back to 421 AD.

Back then, locals would hide there in order to avoid groups of raiding barbarians.

Due to its small size, it was ignored by the invaders time and time again.

In more recent history, the island became infamous for housing people with dangerous and contagious illnesses.

Among Italians, it was said that Poveglia was home to “the dead, dying, and diseased”.

According to legend, the island’s foundation was formed by dumped bodies of plague victims, mental patients, murderers, and other exiled individuals.

The Black Death Arrives

The Black Death, also known as Pestilence or the Great Bubonic Plague, hit Italy hard in the mid-1300s.

Its deadliness was unrivaled at the time— often killing people within a week of infection.

Those worst affected experienced horrible symptoms like:

  • Extreme weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe fever
  • Blackening gangrene
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Swelling of the glands
  • Pus-filled sores all over the body

The disease was thought to have originated in Asia — being transported to Europe by fleas that lived on rats.

According to historians, the overcrowding combined with the low levels of sanitation in the cities made the Pestilence particularly deadly.

(When the plague finally subsided, it’s estimated that between 30-60% of Europe had been killed by it.)

Due to its high mortality rate and dreadful symptoms, panic soon started to spread throughout Italy.

The Isle Of The Damned

Venice, being a bustling trading hub, was especially vulnerable to the Black Death spreading.

Because of this, city officials ordered strict measures in an attempt to keep it at bay.

As soon as any person showed any signs of having Pestilence, he or she was taken by force to Poveglia.

Infected corpses were also transported there — often hastily thrown onto piles in view of the living.

This filled the quarantined people with a deep sense of despair.

As time went on and the stench of rotting flesh grew, any hope of escaping the island alive seemed to slip away.

Occasionally, so-called plague doctors (covered with the eerie “Medico Della Peste” masks) would arrive with a new load of dead and dying.

The Fires Are Lit

When the Black Death was at its peak, thousands of people were dying on the mainland every week.

As the situation became worse, processing the infected bodies became harder.

Eventually, grisly scenes started taking place at Poveglia:

People who were gravely-ill (but still alive) were thrown onto huge pyres together with hundreds of corpses.

They were then set on fire — ending their lives in a burning heap of rotting flesh.

Quarantined Zone

In 1630, Venice was hit by another major outbreak of the Great Plague.

And so, the pyres at Poveglia were lit once more.

When the dust had settled, around 45.000 of the city’s 140.000 citizens had been killed.

In 1793, the isle once more became a containment zone when a minor outbreak was detected onboard two nearby ships.

Following this incident, Poveglia was made into a temporary quarantine site.

After Napoleon gained power over the region in 1805, this arrangement became permanent until 1814.

Over time, the island became highly treasured by the locals, as it stopped dangerous diseases from spreading throughout the mainland.

The Poveglia Asylum

In 1922, the island was transformed into an asylum complex.

It primarily housed those with serious and troublesome mental illnesses.

Overall, the Poveglia asylum was in poor condition — the staff was stretched thin and maintenance work was near non-existent.

Due to its shabby state, it’s believed that the site was used as a dumping ground — rehabilitation efforts were half-hearted at best.

There were also whispers of several suicides on the island around this time.

Echoes From the Past

Many asylum patients reported being haunted by plague victims of the past.

They would hear disembodied screaming and crying — which kept them from sleeping and probably worsened their mental conditions.

There were also frequent sightings of apparitions — both inside and outside of the buildings.

Still, due to their isolation and being seen as mentally unstable, the patients’ claims were largely ignored.

The Evil Doctor

Later in the asylum’s life cycle, rumors of a sadistic doctor at Poveglia began spreading among mainlanders.

It was told that this man carelessly experimented with the most vulnerable patients — injecting them with various chemicals and performing lobotomies.

Some say that he ended up going crazy himself (possibly due to hauntings), and jumped off the tall bell tower to his death.

According to certain accounts, the ghost of the doctor can sometimes be seen at the top of the building, as if reflecting upon his suicide.

A Forsaken Island

After a short stint as an eldercare center, the Poveglia facility was finally closed down and abandoned in 1968.

Though the buildings have deteriorated significantly, most of them still stand there today.

These include:

  • A hospital
  • Church
  • Asylum
  • Bell tower
  • Staff housing
  • Boat shelter

Besides the structures, there is also at least one “plague pit” — filled with over 1500 human remains.

In total, it’s estimated that between 100.000-160.000 people died on Poveglia and were thrown into these pits.

Also, local fishermen usually avoid the waters near the island.

According to them, the seafloor is full of bones that can ruin their hooks and nets.

Reclaimed By Nature

After the island was abandoned in the late 60s, the vegetation slowly but surely reclaimed the grounds.

Various weeds and long vines have successfully penetrated many of the buildings.

True to Italian style, there was also a small vineyard on Poveglia, which now looks more like a tiny forest due to the overgrowth.

As humans left and the greenery kept flourishing, a lot of birds took a liking to the former quarantine site.

Because of this, those who go near Poveglia by boat often hear a lot of bird song.

This makes for an odd contrast to the island’s ominous look and reputation.

The Ghosts Of Poveglia

Due to its eventful history and many reported hauntings, Poveglia has inspired novelists, musicians, and other artists from all around the world.

Due to its notoriety regarding paranormal phenomena, the island has been sought out by many ghost hunters.

Among them were the crew from the “Ghost Adventures” TV show.

While they were there in 2008, one investigator reportedly felt a strong presence of a spirit — claiming his mind was briefly possessed by it.

According to a rumor among locals, a family considered purchasing Poveglia — planning to build a nice holiday retreat there.

However, after they spent a night at the allegedly-haunted site, they dropped the project and never returned.

They didn’t reveal why, but their young daughter reportedly needed a dozen or so stitches shortly after their departure.

Paranormal Phenomena at Poveglia

Based on eyewitness reports, the most common anomalies at Poveglia are:

  • Disembodied wailing
  • Muffled screams
  • Moaning – apparently from pain
  • Apparitions of women and men, of all ages
  • Nasty smells that come and go, with no apparent source
  • Phantom footsteps inside the buildings — especially in the former asylum
  • Doors moving, opening, and closing by themselves

The Future Of The Haunted Island

In 2014, the Italian state auctioned off a 99-year lease to Poveglia.

The highest bid (€513.000) came from an Italian businessman named Luigi Brugnaro.

His plan was to set aside at least €20.000.000 to completely restore the famous island.

However, the plan never came to fruition, as the lease didn’t go through (for reasons undisclosed to the public).

The following year, an organization called Poveglia per Tutti (dedicated to protecting the historic island from privatization) presented another plan.

They were intent on using around €30.000.000 to build a restaurant, study center, public park, and more on Poveglia.

Nevertheless, as of 2020, the old Venetian island still lies deserted.

According to the few who dare visit it, the old bones and tormented spirits still remain.

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