Abandoned Places

The Island of Poveglia Is a Classic Italian Horror Story

Venice, as we know, is one of the most crowded cities you will ever find. A short boat ride from this beautiful city, as part of the Venice lagoon, you will find the exact opposite: the deserted tiny island of Poveglia. With a history that includes hundreds of thousands of people being sent to the island to die there, horror stories about experiments conducted on humans, and also some myths about ghosts that are still there, at least apparently, is it any wonder that this is one of the scariest places in Europe? Let’s get to know Poveglia Island Italy, the place you don’t want to know.

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The Story of Poveglia Island Italy

Island of Poveglia looks, at first glances, like a beautiful and pastoral island. This green island, which divides into two parts by a channel that crosses it, is a place that is difficult to find a more terrifying place in Europe. When we look at the past, we can understand why is Poveglia island off limits.

Poveglia Island history began pretty early. It is first mentioned in writings from the 15th century, and from that point – or even a little earlier – it went through several stops that seemed to make up the script of a horror film. During the 15th century, the island of Poveglia served as a place of refuge for the inhabitants of Padua and Asta from the barbarian invaders. Several attacks on the island left it uninhabited for several centuries. Starting in the 17th century, five forts were built here to take part in defending the Venetian lagoon.

In the 17th century, the plague broke out in Italy. The island became a checkpoint for all people and goods arriving in or leaving Venice by sea. In what may remind us of the initial stories about the outbreak of the Corona epidemic, two of these ships had several cases of infection. The ships were not allowed to continue on their way, and they were forced to anchor there for at least 40 days. Anyone who was under isolation on the island, for one reason or another, was not allowed to pass and was actually condemned to die there. Under Napoleon’s reign, at the beginning of the 19th century, the role of Poveglia Plague Island became permanent. Venice’s leper island was born and quickly became the island of the dead, so the terminally ill or those suffering from infectious diseases were sent there. According to estimates, a total of 100,000-150,000 people died on the island throughout history, depending on who you ask.

To this day, you can see around the island of Poveglia crematoria, which were used to burn the bodies: apparently, some of the patients were burned while alive. In other places on the island, graves stand out. In some cases, they decided to place a small sign above each grave warning people to stay away from it.

In 1922, a hospital for the mentally challenged was established on the island of Poveglia. In what may be a little reminiscent of the plot of the second (and excellent) season of “American Horror Story”, some doctors began to perform other brain surgeries, organ removals by hand drills, and other “experiments” on the inpatients. These were gruesome operations, which in many cases ended in the horrible death of the hospitalized. According to the story, Poveglia Island Doctor Jumped to his death from the top of the bell tower after he was allegedly haunted by the ghosts of the hospitalized patients he had killed.

At some point, Poveglia Island assylum became a nursing home, until it was closed in the 1970s. Today this building is still standing, neglected, and contains some items the residents and employees of the place used once, mute testimony to what was once here.


Poveglia Hospital, Island of Poveglia
The Hospital of Poveglia. Photo: Chris 73. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Is Poveglia Island Haunted?

Like any well-known abandoned place, Poveglia Island also has its horror stories. Many residents of Venice see it as hell on earth, when according to the belief every resident of the city who is condemned to go to hell wakes up after his death in Poveglia. According to a local saying, “a wicked man who dies wakes up in Poveglia”. Some of the island victims may also still be here. One of the familiar Poveglia Island Ghost characters is a girl named Maria, who was separated from her parents during the epidemic and eventually died on the island. The belief is that Maria still calls her parents out loud.

Some define the island of Poveglia as the most haunted place in Europe or even the entire world. Of course, this obligatory title is also said about other sites, for example, the suicide forest of Japan or the catacombs of Paris, and you can’t really decide who is the “winner”. The bottom line is that it is difficult to find another definition for a place where so many people were killed, in such a small area, in a such horrific manner. If you ask supernatural investigators who have come here over the years, equipped with all the same devices we’ve come to know in horror movies, this is more than a myth. The result is some tv series or documentries showing the story, like Poveglia Island Ghost Adventures, an episode in the third season of the American Paranormal and Reality show.

Death Is Everywhere

The most important thing is that people who have been here, swear that this place has unusual supernatural activity, more extreme than anything they have experienced. The stories are from the repertoire of horror movies: creepy voices at night, ghosts that touch or do “Boooo!”, shouts of “Get away from the island and never look back”, or even the same doctor who still rings the bell at the top of the tower from which he jumped.

Death is here, everywhere you look, reminder of that awful Poveglia Island history. Researchers note that the island’s soil is composed of ashes and bones, literally: according to the evidence, more than half of the island’s soil is composed of human remains such as these. In one of the parts of Pogvelia Island horror scenes, you will find a wall on which is written in Latin: “Do not dig, because those who suffered rest here”, with an indication of the date this sentence was written (1793). It is said that the stench of death is still present here, perhaps because some of the Pogevlia Island bodies were not burned or even wrapped properly. Other myths are that the bones of the victims still occasionally wash ashore, to this day.


The Future Of Poveglia Island: A Luxury Tourist Attraction?

The nesx question you may ask, as a horror addict, is how to get permission to visit Poveglia Island. The simple answer is that it’s not simple at all.

Over the years, the Italian government banned visits to Puebla. Those who were able to visit inside Poveglia Island, with special permission from the Italian government, were mainly researchers, journalists, photographers, and other professionals who visit places of this type. The few visitors were able to see the buildings that were preserved on the island, including the mental institution, a hospital, a church, a bell tower that dates back to around the 12th century, housing and administration buildings for the staff who worked here, and more.

Similar to other abandoned places, the fact there is no option today to make Poveglia Island tour won’t keep people from it. Illegal tourism has developed in Poveglia Island Italy as well, befitting an island that is a relatively short boat ride away from the cities of the Venice lagoon, most notably the City of Canals. At some point, the ongoing economic crisis of the boot country and its accumulated debts began to show their signs.

In 2014, the Italian government offered Poveglia Island for sale, or rather the lease of the land for 99 years (that is, the island will remain owned by the state). This is alongside some other properties that are difficult to refuse within the island, for example, the castle, the monastery, or the crematoriums. The Italian government sold the island area and its assets to an Italian entrepreneur, Luigi Brugnaro, for a little more than half a million euros.

The original plan of Brugnaro was to establish on the island, with an investment of at least 20 million euros, a resort for the wealthy of Italy and Europe. The problem is that irregularities in the terms of the project were discovered very quickly, or for some reason, it was decided to cancel the deal (among other things, because the amount offered was not high enough). Brugnaro tried once to get possession of the island after all until he was appointed mayor of Venice. Apparently, it’s a slightly more tempting position.

In 2015, another private group came up with an equally ambitious plan. According to reports, they planned to build a public park, marina, restaurant, guest house, study center, and other buildings, for 20-30 million Euros, in Island of Poveglia.

In the years since then, and as far as we know to this day, nothing has been done to breathe life into Venice’s island of the dead. Time will tell if he manages to finally free himself from the traumas he went through, or if, like other horrific places, he is condemned to remain abandoned for decades to come.

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