Poveglia Island

In the north of Italy, you’ll find what’s called the Venetian Lagoon. Between the islands Venice and Lido, Poveglia Island is situated. This island is often referred to as Plague Island. No other place in the world has seen so much suffering as this place. Residents of Venice refuse to go near the island, they say it’s haunted by many restless souls.

The history of Poveglia Island

Poveglia Island is named in documents dating back from the year 421 AD. During the 9th century, the island was mainly inhabited by refugees from Padua and Este. When Venice, and thus also Poveglia, were under attack by Genoa in 1379, the residents fled to another island called Giudecca. After this, the island was abandoned until 1527. Then the Plague hit Italy. 

Quarantine island

Poveglia - Chris73 via conmons.wikimedia ccbysa3.0
Poveglia – Chris73 via conmons.wikimedia ccbysa3.0

In the 16th century the first ships loaded with Plague victims arrived at the island. Venice, being an island as well, was vulnerable for epidemics. Leaving the sick and dead victims in Venice, would have catastrophic effects. That’s why the sick and dead were transported to the abandoned Poveglia island. The dead were thrown into deep pits. When these “death pits” were full, they were set on fire or covered with dirt. People claim Poveglia consist of 50% dirt and 50% human ashes.

Creepy birds

Imagine being very, very sick. You are taken away from your home and your family and put on a boat full of dead and near dead people. You know your days are numbered. And then you see the doctor. He wears a strange mask with a bird-like beak. What kind of horror must these people have endured in their final moments? I can’t even imagine how terrifying this must have been. That doctor’s beak, by the way, was filled with herbs that would “purify” the illness. Well, that wasn’t very helpful for we now know the Plague was caused by a bacteria, not by a virus.


Poveglia bones - elianemey via pixabay
Burial pit – elianemey via pixabay

When the mass graves were discovered, a century later, the researchers stumbled upon something even more unsettling. In some graves they found skulls with large pieces of rock clamped between the jaws. Every time, when a victim had died, a death pit was re-opened. Sometimes, a recently buried corpse had blood dripping from his or her mouth. Decomposition gasses blew up the corpse which sometimes caused internal organs to rupture. The blood, coming from these organs, found its way out through the mouth. Gross, I know, but that’s how it works.

But they didn’t know that back in the 16th century. Back then, they believed that person had to be a vampire who was feasting on the other corpses. Can you imagine that it’s you who was to re-open a pit, which is disturbing enough, and you would discover a corpse who’s got blood dripping from its mouth? The horror! I guess I’d never sleep again! In the 16th century the solution to slay a vampire was to put a stone in its mouth so it would starve. I hope they had good counselors back then.

Forbidden grounds

Fishermen today still avoid Poveglia Island. They literally navigate around the area widely. When the skies are clear, you can allegedly see the skulls and bones under the water surface. When a skull or bone accidently is caught in the net, the entire catch is thrown back into the deep. The fishermen rather take their loss than take the risk. Around 160.000 Plague victims were buried or cremated on this island.

New residents

Poveglia Island - Wirestock Images via shutterstock
Poveglia Island – Wirestock Images via shutterstock

In 1922, new people came to live on the island. This time the new residents were psychiatric patients. The director of the facility was your typical mad scientist who liked to perform horrible experiments on his patients. Experiments such as the terrible lobotomy, a cruel form of brain surgery, which is done with a chisel and a hammer right above the eye. The director eventually lost his own mind and threw himself off the clock tower of the facility. People claim the ghosts of his victims drove him to his deed. The decaying psychiatric hospital is still there, but since 1968 nobody lives on the island anymore. Well, except for a few very unhappy ghosts.

Ghost Island

Poveglia - Wirestock Images via shutterstock
Poveglia – Wirestock Images via shutterstock

It’s not hard to imagine the place is overcrowded with restless souls. Fishermen claim to hear screams and moans from the island and they say that the bell in the tower can be heard sometimes. Which would be impossible because the bell itself has been removed years ago. “Little Maria” is a spirit that has been seen on the island for over 400 years. This young child most likely died from the Plague. She roams the beach while she cries in a heartbreaking way.

There are also some spirits from the time it was used as a psychiatric hospital. Pietro, a man with two amputated legs, used to race his wheelchair through the hospital. People claim they can hear his phantom wheelchair racing up and down the corridors. Frederico grins and laughs out loud the entire day and the spirit of a young female is seen regularly as well. She has a terrifying expression on her face. People say she’s scared of the mad doctor who still performs his sick experiments here. A pair of huge eyes have been seen just below the water surface and people see faces behind the windows of the hospital.

Other ghostly encounters on the island

Poveglia Island - Crow via flickr CC BY-2.0
Crow via flickr CC BY 2.0

People claim being watched and even followed around the island during their visit. Some get emotional when stepping on the island, feeling deep dread and sorrow. The hospital can be entered on several places, but the easiest entrance is the scariest. You’d have to crawl through one of the cremators. Visitors of the hospital claim to see shadows on the walls that appear to follow them throughout the entire facility. Sometimes people get scratched and pushed and, in the end, nobody leaves the island unshaken.

Poveglia today

Poveglia has its own government and is closed for the public. Even though fishermen avoid it desperately, it draws like a magnet to adventure seekers who want to catch a glimpse of all the island’s misery. Who wants to enter will have to apply for it, and it can take years to get an approval. Going there without it is against the law. Besides, it’s hard to find someone who’s willing to take you there. The Ghost Adventures crew were given permission to film here, and they still suffer from the consequences. Would you go there if you could?

Do you want to read more stories of haunted places in Europe? Click here

Cover photo: Poveglia – Pietro Basilico via shutterstock
Sources: Wikipedia, ranker.com, allthatsinteresting.com, italicsmag.com, adventure.howstuffworks.com, youtube: stuktv horrornacht and ghostadventures S03E03
Location: Venetian Lagune, Venice, Northern Italy.

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