5 Haunted Sites to Explore in Venice | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

5 Haunted Sites to Explore in Venice

Discover 5 of Venice's most haunted sites, from 'The House of No Return' to 'The Island of Ghosts'.

Amy Irvine

31 May 2023

Venice is known for its rich history, beautiful labyrinthine canals and stunning architecture. However, it also has its share of locations associated with ghost stories or legends that add to its captivating atmosphere and mystique, from abandoned haunted islands to cursed houses.

Here we explore 5 of some of Venice’s most haunted places.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / r Iain99 / CC BY-SA 3.0

1. Palazzo Dario

Overlooking Venice‘s Grand Canal, Palazzo Dario has been home to several famous figures, including Machiavelli and Casanova. However, over the years, it has gained a reputation as one of the world’s most haunted houses, earning nicknames including ‘The House of No Return’. Nearly all those who have owned, lived or had anything to do with the building have met a sticky end, through murder, suicides, accident or bankruptcy.

The palace was built in 1479 for aristocrat Giovanni Dario – Secretary of the Senate of the Republic of Venice – as a wedding gift for his daughter Marietta and her fiancé, Vincenzo Barbaro, a wealthy spice merchant. After inheriting the house in 1494, Vincenzo later went bankrupt and was stabbed to death, and Marietta subsequently took her own life. Shortly afterwards, their son was killed in a fight in Crete.

Since then, the palace has seen a series of mysterious deaths and misfortunes, with more than 12 owners meeting tragic ends, including suicides, sudden illnesses, or in violent circumstances; 5 other owners went bankrupt and 3 had severe accidents.

At the turn of the 21st century, Woody Allen debated buying Palazzo Dario, but changed his mind after learning about the strange and tragic deaths connected to the property. Today, the Palazzo Dario is owned by an American multinational, but (perhaps thankfully) no-one lives there. Interestingly, an inscription on the palace facade reads ‘Urbis Genio Joannes Darius’ (‘Giovanni Dario to the Genius of the City’) – but when rearranged, forms the anagram ‘Sub ruina insidiosa genero’ (‘I bring treacherous ruins to those who live under this roof’).

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Chris 73 / CC BY-SA 3.0

2. Poveglia Island

The island of Poveglia is completely abandoned and uninhabited – and the most famous haunted place in the Venetian lagoon. Due to its sinister past, the island is known as the ‘island of ghosts’. Some believers in the paranormal also claim Poveglia is the most haunted island in the world.

After Venice’s attack by the Genoans in 1379, Poveglia’s residents were moved to the Giudecca and the island remained uninhabited in the subsequent centuries. However, in 1700, at the time of the Black Death (and during other plague outbreaks), the island became a lazaret – a quarantine station to isolate Venetian plague victims. Those brought to Poveglia were left to die on the island, buried or burned. Over the following decades, various legends arose, claiming the island was haunted by those who lived and died there.

In 1922 a psychiatric hospital was built on the island. According to legend, extremely cruel and illegal practices were experimented on patients, including lobotomy. It is also said that the head of the psychiatry department went mad after witnessing – or even conducting – such barbarism, committing suicide by throwing himself from the bell tower.

The psychiatric hospital was dismantled in 1946, and later used as a long-term care facility, until its closure in 1968. The island remains in a state of total abandonment and is officially closed to tourism. The few brave visitors confirm a macabre, surreal, atmosphere and witnessed several inexplicable phenomena or heard disturbing sounds of agonising screams and cries. Over 160,000 deaths occurred there, and local fishermen don’t approach the island’s shores, believing it cursed.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Didier Descouens / CC BY-SA 4.0

3. Casino degli Spiriti

The Casino degli Spiriti (‘Small House of the Spirits’) is an annexe of Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo, and for centuries people have believed it to be cursed. Built in the 16th century, Casino degli Spiriti hosted meetings between Venetian philosophers, nobles and artists of the era, with figures and artists such as Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian regular visitors at its heyday. The building also once served as a plague hospital, later hosting an anatomical theatre in which autopsies were performed.

The palace and its annexe were later abandoned, yet strange noises have been heard emanating from there at night, similar to Gregorian chants, spreading throughout the surrounding lagoon, leading many locals to say the place is cursed. Some think the casino was the seat of religious sects, congregating there to organise satanic rites invoking ‘spirits and demons’. Many witnesses reported having seen hooded and cloaked torchlit processions at night in the fog.

The ‘ghost’ of Pietro Luzzo da Feltre, a 16th century painter, is also said to haunt the building. Luzzo used to regularly meet in the palace with artists such as Giorgione and Tiziano. He was in unrequited love with Cecilia – Giorgione’s model and lover – but after his affections were rebuffed, Luzzo killed himself there. His ghost is said to wander the halls, crying for his impossible love.

In 1929, the four bodies were found in the Casino degli Spiriti, apparently all missing their heads and right hands, and in 1947 a young woman was robbed and killed there, her body dismembered, placed in a trunk, and submerged into the lagoon in front of the building. The body was discovered a fortnight later by a local fisherman, and it is said that today the fishermen of Venice refuse to fish anywhere nearby.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Falk2 / CC BY-SA 4.0

4. Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello

The square of Campo dei Mori is characterised by four stone statues built into the walls of Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello (‘The House of the Mysterious Statues’) depicting three men with startled faces, along with a bas-relief of a camel. Originally constructed in the 12th century, the Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello formerly belonged to three brothers – Rioba, Sandi and Afani – wealthy silk and spice merchants who had relocated from the Peloponnese to Venice around 1112. However, an old Venetian story claims that the statues are actually the petrified Rioba, Sandi, and Afani themselves, and one of their servants.

Legend claims the brothers tried to scam a rich Venetian widow who had inherited a tailoring workshop by attempting to sell her poor quality fabric for a very high price. On discovering their scam, the widow prayed to Saint Mary Magdalene to curse the money she paid to them. When the 3 dishonest merchants touched the money, they were transformed into stone statues – still standing there today reminding passers-by that ‘divine justice punishes sinners’.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Didier Descouens / CC BY-SA 4.0

5. Palazzo Grassi

The elegant Palazzo Grassi is one of a number of large palaces along the Grand Canal, and its neoclassical facade showcases Venice’s grandeur and artistic heritage. However, the palace is also rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl who allegedly threw herself (or was thrown) from one of balconies of the courtyard of the palace.

During the 16th century, Palazzo Grassi was owned by the Cini family, then acquired by various family’s including its namesake Grassi family in 1655. The Palazzo Grassi seen today was rebuilt between 1748 and 1772 – the last palace to be built on the Grand Canal before the Venetian Republic’s fall. The Grassi family sold the palazzo in 1840, and the Palazzo then served various purposes throughout history. In 1983, it was purchased by the Fiat Group and underwent a complete restoration.

During the 1980’s restoration, an old night watchman was walking through the Palazzo’s halls when he heard a voice from nowhere, calling him and telling him to stop. After taking a moment to recover from the shock, the man lit his torch (he was used to moving around in the dark as he knew the place well), and began looking for the person who had called him. The man couldn’t find any evidence that anyone else had been near him, but noticed that the voice had stopped him one step away from a hole left in the floor by the workers, without any safety measures placed around it. If he hadn’t heard the voice, he would have likely died. Thus the ghost of Palazzo Grassi saved his life.

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