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Poveglia: Probably the Most Haunted Place in the World

A haunting view of Poveglia Island, where history shrouded in darkness unfolds
A view of the “haunted” island of Poveglia, where history shrouded in darkness unfolds. Credit: Crow / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In northern Italy lies the Venetian Lagoon, and nestled between the islands of Venice and Lido is the island of Poveglia, commonly known as Plague Island. This unique spot has a dark history, marked by immense suffering. Locals in Venice avoid the island, claiming its haunted by numerous unsettled spirits.

Exploring the past of Poveglia

Records mention Poveglia as far back as 421 AD. In the ninth century, it became a home for refugees from Padua and Este.

In 1379, when Genoa threatened Venice, including Poveglia, the islanders sought safety on another island named Giudecca. Following this, Poveglia was left deserted until 1527, when the devastating plague struck Italy.

Poveglia, island of quarantine

In the sixteenth century, the initial ships carrying plague-stricken individuals reached Poveglia. Venice also faced the risk of widespread epidemics because it is situated on a bunch of islands. Leaving the afflicted and deceased in Venice could have led to disastrous consequences.

Consequently, the ill and deceased were transported to Poveglia, which was deserted. The deceased were placed in deep pits, termed “death pits.”

Once these pits reached capacity, they were either set ablaze or covered with soil. It’s asserted that Poveglia is composed of fifty percent soil and fifty percent human ashes.

Eerie birds of Poveglia’s past

Picture this: you’re incredibly ill, taken away from home and family, and placed on a boat surrounded by the dead. Your days are limited, and then you spot the doctor. He wears an unusual mask resembling a bird’s beak.

The horror these people faced in their final moments must have been unimaginable. That doctor’s beak, filled with herbs meant to “purify” the illness, wasn’t as helpful as intended. Today, we understand bacteria, not a virus, caused the plague.

Vampires of the past

A century after the mass graves were unearthed, researchers made a chilling discovery. Some skulls in the graves had large rocks wedged between the jaws. When a new victim was buried, the old death pit was reopened.

Occasionally, a freshly buried body had blood oozing from the mouth. The buildup of gases during decomposition could cause the body to bloat and organs to rupture, causing blood to escape through the mouth. It is pretty gross, but that’s the science of it.

However, in the sixteenth century, they didn’t grasp this science. Instead, they believed the person must have been a vampire, feeding on others. Imagine being the one reopening a pit, already a disturbing task, only to find a corpse with blood dripping from its mouth.

In the sixteenth century, the solution to vanquish a vampire was to place a stone in its mouth, thinking it would starve. Let’s hope they had wise advisors in those times.

Off-limits territory of Poveglia

Even today, fishermen go out of their way to steer clear of Poveglia. Some claim you can spot skulls and bones beneath the water’s surface when the sky is clear. The entire catch is tossed back into the deep if a skull or bone accidentally gets tangled in the fishing net.

Fishermen prefer to accept the loss rather than risk the consequences. Around 160,000 plague victims found their final resting place, either buried or cremated, on this island.

New inhabitants

In 1922, a different kind of resident arrived on the island—psychiatric patients. The head of the facility was your stereotypical mad scientist, engaging in horrifying experiments on the patients. Among these experiments was the dreadful lobotomy, a cruel type of brain surgery using a chisel and a hammer placed right above the eye.

Eventually, the director lost his own sanity, ending his life by jumping off the clock tower of the facility. Some say the ghosts of his victims haunted him to this tragic end.

While the deteriorating psychiatric hospital still stands, no one has lived on the island since 1968, except, perhaps, for a handful of very unhappy ghosts.

Island of Spirits

It’s not a stretch to picture Poveglia as a crowded haven for restless souls. Fishermen report hearing screams and moans emanating from the island. It is said that the tower bell sometimes chimes, though it was removed years ago.

An eerie figure known as “Little Maria” has been spotted on the island for over four centuries. This young child, likely a plague victim, wanders the beach, crying in a heart-wrenching manner.

Ghosts from the island’s time as a psychiatric hospital also linger. Pietro, a man with two amputated legs, is said to race his phantom wheelchair through the hospital corridors. People claim to hear the echoing sounds of his wheelchair racing about.

Frederico, who grins and laughs incessantly, and a terrified young female spirit, said to fear the doctor who continues his twisted experiments to this day, are also frequently witnessed. Some have reported seeing large eyes just below the water’s surface and faces peering from the hospital windows.

Present-day Poveglia

Poveglia operates under its own government and is off-limits to the general public. Despite the fervent avoidance by fishermen, it is a magnet for adventure seekers eager to get a glimpse of the island’s dark history.

Anyone wishing to visit must undergo an application process, which can take years to be approved. Trespassing is strictly forbidden, and finding someone willing enough to take you there is no easy task. The Ghost Adventures crew obtained permission to film on the island, and members still grapple with the aftermath.

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