Paranormal investigators have bucket lists of locations which are their ‘dream locations’. One location which is likely on most lists is a place called Poveglia Island. Of course the island was given ‘paranormal fame’ after an episode of Ghost Adventures were Zak was supposedly possessed (when isn’t he these days). While you can never trust the paranormal activity you witness on a reality television program (it is entertainment remember), the sheer history of the location is what interests us the most. So let’s take a look at Poveglia Island and why it is so intriguing.
Poveglia Island, circa 1779, print by Tironi-Sandi
The island of Poveglia sits in Northern Italy in the Venetian Lagoon that sits between the cities of Venice and Lido. Only approachable by boat, the island as it sits today is completely abandoned, isolated from the public and derelict. The 18 acres of land was originally used as a quarantine station of sorts for people with infectious diseases and also used as a mass burial ground for victims of the black plague who were sent there to be burned.
A gondola ride to the island was a one way ticket. While if you went there today, you could leave, the patients transported to this island did not. It was not a place where people ‘got better’. It was a place they were sent to die without infecting others. The location itself was so far away from the mainlands that it was a case of our of sight and out of mind. It was also a safe enough distance that those who were dying of ‘The Black Plague’ would not infect others.
The black plague was referred to at the time as The Black Death. It is probably one of the worst diseases that mankind has dealt with. In the 1300, it is estimated that over 200 million people died from this horrible disease in Europe. It killed off an average of 45% of the European population.
The island was originally a small community who were sadly all struck down by the Black plague and was completely abandoned in 1380. It was said to be haunted by the ghosts of those who had died. In 1576, the number of people that were dying of the Bubonic plague (which is very similar to the Black Plague) was increasing to the thousands. There was no where to put the bodies and the stench was becoming a problem in Venice. The bodies were transported to Poveglia and put in mass burial puts and burnt in an effort to stop the disease spreading further. People were scared for their lives. Anyone that showed a small symptom was taken from their homes and sent to Poveglia were they were often thrown in the pits and left to die. Doctors who transported the patients by boat to the island would wear bird like masks to avoid catching the disease. They filled it with spices and rose petals so they didn’t have to smell the rotting bodies. A lot of people felt that the plague was a disease caused by evil spirits and the masks were designed to scare the spirits away.
In the 1600’s the Venetian government built 5 octagonal forts to protect and control the entrances to the lagoon. Poveglia is one of 4 that still stands today. It became a checkpoint in 1700’s for people and goods entering Venice by ship. There were reported cases of ships arriving infested with the plague. The island was then used as a temporary confinement station and was then used as permanent quarantine station.
In 1922, the existing buildings were converted into an asylum for the mentally ill and those individuals who needed full time long term care. Patients reported that the buildings were haunted, however as they were ‘mentally ill’ it was attributed as part of their illness. The complained of seeing ghosts and hearing disembodied voices. A sadistic and demented doctor is said to have worked at the island. He would experiment on patients in an effort to ‘cure’ their mental illness. He felt lobotomies’ were the way to do this and it was usually against the patient’s will. He used hammers, chisels and drills and not anaesthesia and serialisation was absent as he did not care if a patient lived or died. Some patients were subjected to what were referred to as ‘very dark’ experiments. He would drag them up to the bell tower and while it is not known exactly what he did to them, their screams could be heard throughout the island. Eventually the ghosts of the island caught up with the doctor and his horrible plans. It is claimed he began to suffer a personal mental torture and was hunted by the resident ghosts. He lost his mind and threw himself from the bell tower. Some say he was pushed or thrown from an angry spirit. A nurse who apparently witnessed the fall claimed he survived the fall but an mist overcame his body and choked him to death. Another story says that he was captured by some of his patients who had been lobotomized and he was bricked up inside the bell tower left to die, while others say his body was bricked up in there after he died. He is believed to haunt the bell tower where the bell supposedly rings at night.
The hospital was closed in 1968. Very few people had been to the island since it had closed. Locals were scared of the island and you would sometimes find it hard to find a boat who would transport you as the island has been off limits to the public. Those who have visited the island often come back a changed person. It is said to be an extremely intense and emotional location with a high amount of paranormal activity. Visitors report a sensation of being watched, while others have been scratched and pushed. The general consensus is that whatever is there does not want visitors and will do anything to keep people from coming back.
The island was sold in 2014 for more than £400k at auction. It is estimated that the renovation and restoration of the buildings on the island will cost in excess of £16 million. The auction was won by Luigi Brignaro which allows him to lease the location for 99 years. He bought it with the intention of the island having some sort of public use and it is still unknown what the fate of the island will be. While some believe it should be restored to honour the past, other’s believe too much has happened here and too much death, trauma and sorrow haunts the island and it should be left alone. Whatever they decide to do with it, one thing is for sure, the poor souls who met their fate on their island deserve to be at peace and to have their stories be told and honoured. This is why history, no matter how ashamed we are of it, is important to keep alive, and not buried with the victims.
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Photos are not my own