Poveglia Island is Haunted by the Ghosts of Over 160,000 Plague Victims

Isle of Madness: Poveglia Island is Haunted by the Ghosts of 160,000 Plague Victims

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People often ask me what my dream haunted destination would be if I could go anywhere in the world to conduct a paranormal investigation. I’ve had the same answer for the past 15 years: The Island of Poveglia in Northern Italy. Completely abandoned and isolated from the public, the island once served as a dumping ground for over 160,000 plague sufferers. Not everyone’s idea of an ideal vacation, but for the ghost hunters who have visited the island, it’s considered one of the most paranormally-active locations in the world. Some visitors are so shaken by what they’ve experienced on Poveglia that they vow never to return.

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For the sick who traveled to Poveglia, the gondola ride to the island was a one-way ticket. No one ever got better on the island of Poveglia. The distance from the mainland meant that sufferers would not only be out of sight and out of mind, but a safe distance away from those who had yet to contract the Black Plague, the fatal disease that left its victims with puss covered boils and rotting black tissue. For those who look carefully, there are still a number of plague pits littered all over the island, giant graves where bodies were dumped quickly after death with the hopes of keeping the disease from spreading to the doctors and nurses.

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The Black Death was easily one of the most destructive pandemics to ever hit humankind, and resulted in the death tolls that may have reached as high as 200 million people, most of them in Europe in the years 1346–53. It’s long been thought that the plague was carried by Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that stowed away on merchant ships, though a relatively new theory says that gerbils may have been to blame. In the end, The Black Plague is thought to have killed 30-60% of Europe’s population.

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To give you a morbidly visual idea about the number of people who died on the island of Poveglia, a longstanding rumor about the property is that the topsoil consists of nearly 50% human ash. The island has never been properly investigated or excavated, so there’s no real way to guess exactly how many people’s remains are still there. However, judging by the islands monumentally dark past, we’ve only just yet begun to scratch the surface.

As if having been the dumping ground for so many doomed souls wasn’t enough, in the late 1800s, Italy again turned to the island of Poveglia for another dark purpose. With nowhere to house their mentally ill, the island was transformed into a makeshift asylum where the highly disturbed could be kept isolated from the mainland.

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As if out of a horror movie, rumors began to spread about the head doctor’s twisted experiments, in which he’d allegedly been using the countless patients on the island as human guinea pigs. By the 1930s, crippled by the guilt of his actions, the mad doctor committed suicide by throwing himself off the bell tower, which still stands at the entrance to the island today. According to locals, it’s not uncommon to hear the sound of a bell chime echoing from the island late at night, even though it was removed many years ago.

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By the mid 1970s the island and hospital had been completely abandoned, and the buildings began to slowly be taken back by nature. For obvious reasons, many of the mainlanders do not like to travel near the island. In fact, many of the local boat owners refuse to ferry curious thrill-seekers to Poveglia, choosing to steer clear of the island that they believe wholeheartedly is cursed.

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Over the years many who have visited Poveglia return having experienced some of the most intense paranormal activity ever reported. The overwhelming feeling of being watched tends to be the first indicator that something strange is about to happen to visitors, and shortly thereafter, ghost hunters begin to report being scratched by invisible entities, pushed into walls, and even chased by the disembodied sounds of moaning that echoes all across the island. Visitors have documented countless experiences with the island’s ghosts, including the mad doctor, who is one of the most violent entities.

Needless to say, Poveglia is not for the faint of heart.

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In 2014 the island was sold to Italian businessman Luigi Brugnaro, and it’s future remains unclear. Though there has been no news about whether or not Bruganaro plans to restore Poveglia or turn it into a luxury resort (seriously, don’t people watch horror movies?), the lease is good for 99-years, so he’s got some time to think about whether or not he wasn’t to attempt to renovate the most haunted island on earth…

L0001903 Human bones and skulls in a brick-built pit. Photograph. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Human bones and skulls in a brick-built pit. Photograph. Photograph Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

I’m sure that quite a few people might agree with me when I say that I believe Poveglia should be left alone. The island has seen so much death and has been at the center of so much human suffering, that it almost seems disrespectful to turn it into a hotel or a resort. Not to mention the sheer level of paranormal activity occurring a daily basis, which as we know, is not everyone’s cup of tea.

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Poveglia is a haunted island with a dark history that spans out across decades, literally seeping into the very soil that makes up the land. If you were to ask me to name a haunted place that could match Poveglia, I can promise that the list would be a very short one. Some places have seen so much death that they just aren’t suitable for the living anymore, and I truly believe that is true about Poveglia, the island of madness.


What’s your dream haunted location? Let us know in the comments below! For more of the weirdest paranormal news each and every day, like Planet Weird on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @WeirdHQ!


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Dana Matthews

Dana Matthews

Co-founder, Editor, Writer at Week in Weird / Planet Weird
Managing editor, occult museum curator, and paranormal TV junkie, Dana has been actively investigating the strange and the unexplained for two decades. When she’s not telling ghost stories or penning articles about real haunted places, she's chasing mysteries with Planet Weird. Learn more about Dana.
Dana Matthews

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Hopefully you can visit before it is developed. I can imagine it being transformed into some ridiculous haunted theme park attraction. Instead of actual abandoned buildings, they’d have fake abandoned buildings for tram cars to travel through. They’d pipe in eerie noises. There would be a hotel with themed rooms and themed cocktails (The Plague, Bubonic Tonic, etc.) and cheesy candle-lit group events. If developers can bastardize something, they will (developers in my city recently tore up ancient oak trees and paved over foot paths so they could create a “nature appreciation center”). If I were to go to Poveglia,… Read more »
Oh, one of my dream haunted locations would have to be Amityville. Apparently the whole area is haunted. But I’d love to investigate THE house. It hasn’t been investigated since the 1970s and that investigation was something of a debacle, with poor documentation and a cult of conflicting personalities. It’s probably much easier to gain access to the island Poveglia than the Amityville house. Each subsequent owner has repeatedly denied access to investigators (or if there were investigations, none have been made public). It’s just bizarre to me that no one who has lived there in recent decades has had… Read more »

Great article.

I’m so intrigued by this place! I went to Venice 2 years ago and sailed past the island. If only I’d have known the history of it then. I remember seeing it thinking that looks derelict and I couldn’t take my eyes off the place as we pulled away.

One day I hope to return and visit this mysterious place.

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