Poveglia Island - History and Facts | History Hit

Poveglia Island

Amy Irvine

26 May 2023
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Chris 73 / CC BY-SA 3.0

About Poveglia Island

The small island of Poveglia is completely abandoned and uninhabited, and the most famous haunted place in the Venetian lagoon.

Sometimes referred to as ‘the island of no return’, due to its sinister past, the island is also known as the ‘island of ghosts’. Believers in the paranormal have also claimed that Poveglia is the most haunted island or the most haunted place in the world.

History of Poveglia Island

The island was originally used as a port in the centuries after the Roman Empire. In the 9th century its population, and its importance, grew, until it was governed by a dedicated Podestà. However, after Venice came under attack from the Genoan fleet in 1379, the people of Poveglia were moved to the Giudecca and the island remained uninhabited in the subsequent centuries.

In 1700, at the time of the Black Death (and during other plague outbreaks throughout the centuries), the island became a lazaret – effectively a quarantine station to isolate Venetian plague victims. Being brought to Poveglia was a sign that death was approaching, with plague victims buried, burned or left to die. Consequently, the island became a giant burial ground. 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 to hide the mentally ill away from the city. According to legend, extremely cruel and illegal practices were experimented on patients, such as lobotomy. It is also said that the head of the psychiatry department went mad after witnessing such a barbarism and committed suicide by throwing himself from the bell tower of the island.

Other stories suggest it was this chief doctor himself who committed these atrocities – as well as torturing victims in the bell tower who had told him that they saw mysterious figures wandering around the hospital, and that he committed suicide in this manner after going mad when he started to see the ghosts too. Legends say it was the ghosts of his victims who did it.

The psychiatric hospital was dismantled in 1946, and later used as a long-term care facility, until its closure in 1968. Afterwards, the island was briefly used for agriculture, then completely abandoned.

Poveglia Island today

In 2014 the Italian state auctioned a 99-year lease of Poveglia, which would remain state property, to raise revenue, yet despite hopes a hotel or other more accessible venue be built there, the island remains in a state of total abandonment and is officially closed to tourism.

Visitors can only visit with a special permit or by private boat, and the few brave visitors who have been to the island confirm that they have found a macabre, surreal, atmosphere and have witnessed several inexplicable phenomena (including strange figures lurking around abandoned buildings) or heard disturbing sounds of agonising screams and cries.

Locals say that over 160,000 deaths have occurred on the island, and local fishermen don’t even approach its shores because they believe the island is cursed and its soil mixed with the ashes of the people who died and who were buried there.

Getting to Poveglia Island

Poveglia Island is located in the middle of Venice’s southern lagoon, and can be seen clearly from the Venice Lido. As mentioned, the island is officially closed to tourism and visitors require a special permit.

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