Updated: Sep 18
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When you think of islands, your mind probably goes to beach vacations with plenty of sun and fun. But today’s topic is an Italian island that probably wasn’t much fun for its former residents, many of whom died horrible, violent deaths.
I covered this location in one of my first corresponding YouTube videos, but it was so badly done that I figured it needed a reboot. Let’s talk about Poveglia Island.
Poveglia is an 18 acre island in the Venetian Lagoon, less than a miles from the mainland. It’s been inhabited on and off for the past two thousand years or so, but its most noteworthy residents were brought there by people who had no intentions of letting them ever leave.
In 1347, Europe and Asia were struck by a devastating pandemic — the bubonic plague. This plague, commonly called the Black Death, would hit hard, killing more than one third of Europe’s population. It died off for awhile — no pun intended — then came back again in the 1500’s and again in the 1600’s. It technically still exists today, but is nowhere near as widespread or deadly.
If you contracted the plague in the Venice area during an outbreak, you probably weren’t in for a good time. Diseased individuals were shipped to Poveglia by the thousands to quarantine them from the healthy. And if by some stroke of luck you managed to survive the Black Death, your it was still a one way trip. Plague victims were piled on top of each other in mass graves and burned — and several sources said some of them were still alive during this.
From everything I researched, many people shipped to Poveglia had only shown the slightest signs of being sick and might not have even had the plague. Even on the off chance that they could have recovered from whatever ailment they had, once they arrived on the island their fate was pretty much sealed. You could easily take advantage of this if you had even the slightest amount of power and there was someone in your life you wanted to get rid of. ‘Hey, that guy over there who I’ve been feuding with for years? Yeah, he has the sniffles. Must be the plague — send him to the pit!’
So, needless to say, life was probably not great for anyone in 1300’s to 1600’s Venice. The cremated remains of anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 people are said to be scattered on Poveglia’s ground. In fact, the dirt on the island is said to be made of half regular dirt, half human ashes.
After the insanity of the Black Deaths, Poveglia was relatively quiet for awhile. Then, in 1922, a psychiatric hospital opened up. Like many similar institutions of the early 1900’s, anyone with any sort of mental or physical illness, no matter how mild, was at risk of being sent there. And one doctor at the hospital has become particularly legendary.
According to the stories, this doctor loved performing experiments on patients, including “lobotomies” with…let’s just say very little in the way of anesthetic. Special patients (“special”) were said to be taken to the hospital’s bell tower. It’s not clear exactly what went on up there, but their screams could supposedly be heard from anywhere on the island.
And stories of the doctor’s death are even darker. Most accounts say he took his own life by jumping off the bell tower, tormented by the spirits of his victims. Others say he was pushed off the tower by said spirits, or that he survived the initial fall but was killed on the ground by a mist that swallowed him whole.
The hospital closed in 1968, and the island changed hands at least a couple of times over the next few decades. There is a story of a family who bought the island but left after the first night there when a ghost tried to rip their daughters face off. A so-called “geriatric center” was on the island for awhile, but was shut down in 1975. Attempts to restore and reopen the hospital were never finished, and it’s not really clear why.
In 2014, the island was sold at auction for 513,000 euros — about 600,000 U.S. dollars. But the deal fell through after some outside interference from groups that wanted to preserve the island.
Today, Poveglia is closed to the public. You can get approval to visit from the Italian tourism board, but it’s a pretty lengthy process that probably involves the only thing scarier than ghosts: A lot of paperwork. There are also people you can pay to take you over there in a boat, though I’m not sure if that’s legal. Still, there are plenty of people who have visited over the years, including author Ransom Riggs, who visited the island in 2010. Slight deviation; if you’ve never read his most well known novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I recommend it. You can get a copy here.***
Unsurprisingly, Poveglia is said to be haunted by the people who died there — mostly plague victims. Male and female ghosts of all ages have been spotted, and their disembodied screams have reportedly been heard. Even when the hospital was still in operation, patients said they saw these ghostly plague victims. Even though the bell was removed from its tower awhile ago, locals say they still hear it chime; the rumor is that the doctor’s ghost, who has also been spotted, is the one ringing it.
Another ghostly inhabitant of Poveglia is said to be Little Maria, who died of the plague. She’s been spotted for over 400 years, walking up and down the beach and crying. A double amputee named Pietro is said to be heard racing his wheelchair up and down the corridors, something he enjoyed doing in life. A man named Frederico and a frightened young woman have also been spotted.
In 2014, two Australian journalists visited the island. While exploring, they took a picture of a table in the hospital…only to come back a few hours later and find it on the other side of the room. Was this another prankster on the island, their mind playing tricks on them…or something more otherworldly?
In 2015, a woman named Elise wrote to the Real Ghost Stories Online podcast. She claimed an Italian friend of hers visited Poveglia in 2012 on an overnight trip hosted by a paranormal group. This friend didn’t see anything out of the ordinary on the trip, but later sent Elise her photos, and Elise noticed one that struck her as odd. Elise says she saw a figure in the darkness that she thought might have been a priest wearing a rosary or the ghost of someone from the retirement home. Check out the photo above and decide for yourself what you believe.
But maybe the most notable visitors to the island were cast members on the show Ghost Adventures. They stayed there overnight and seemed to have an especially unpleasant time. Things got so bad that one of the guys claimed he was possessed by a demon, and the group had to pause their investigation to use holy water! I’m not sure if this experience was genuine or if it was either made up or exaggerated for drama and ratings. You can watch the entire show here and decide for yourself.
Other reported hauntings on Poveglia include: Doors opening and closing on their own, a pair of eyes just below the water’s surface, faces in windows and people getting scratched, pushed, or even chased down the corridors. Others claim they stepped onto the island and immediately heard a voice telling them to leave. Psychics who visit are said to be so scared by the malignant presence they claim to feel that they never want to go back.
One other thing I thought was worth noting is that Poveglia isn’t too far from Italy’s so-called “vampire grave.” I did a full video on vampire graves, which you can watch here.
I’ve said this in a couple of my other haunted place videos, but I’ll say it again here: I would advise you not to visit this island. Not only is it usually illegal, but from my research it doesn’t seem like the locals like tourists poking around the area. There are plenty of photos and videos you can look at if you want to experience it yourself.