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Exploring Poveglia: World’s most haunted island

“You realize you are alone on this island.”

Those were the only words the water-taxi driver said before dropping me off on the desolate shores of Poveglia, a little island off the coast of Venice that is rumoured to be the world’s most haunted.

As the gloomy tower of Poveglia first came into view, I was excited, but by the time I stepped out of the water taxi, I was feeling something different.

Fear.

“Don’t dig, here rest those dead from contagion, 1793.”

“Don’t dig, here rest those dead from contagion, 1793.”

I’m not someone who scares easily. I can’t remember the last time a horror movie or book has made me the slightest bit uneasy. During my tour of the haunted forest in Romania, I felt sick but never wary. But I’ll admit it–I’ve never felt as terrified in my life as I was during those two and a half hours on Poveglia.

I didn’t have the chance to reply to the driver before the skies opened up, unleashing a torrential downpour. There was no time to debate whether or not it was a good idea to go inside one of the condemned buildings–I had no choice but to make a run for it.

Part of the ceiling was missing, and as the water hit rusting metal contraptions many decades old, it very much felt like I wasn’t alone. There were enough strange sounds to give anyone nightmares. I told myself it was just the rain. And the wind. And the angry lagoon, slapping at the shore.

Anyone have an idea what this is?

Anyone have an idea what this is?

Was it the power of suggestion? Poveglia, like all good haunted sites, has a dark, disturbing history. Whether it was my imagination or not, I quickly noticed that some places on the island bothered me more than others. The brick structure where I first took shelter was creepy in the way abandoned buildings full of strange metal contraptions are creepy, but compared to how I felt in the asylum, it was almost comforting.

The asylum really unnerved me. I forced myself to explore it as much as I could, although a lot of the rooms were pitch black and I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight. All I had was my camera’s flash, and I couldn’t help but think of those scary movies where a flash reveals something horrible looming out of the darkness. Thankfully, that didn’t happen on Poveglia, but at one point a pigeon and I scared the crap out of each other (probably literally in the pigeon’s case).

Broken stairs in the asylum. Yes, I climbed them!

Broken stairs in the asylum. Yes, I climbed them!

Slowly making my way down corridors, flanked by darkened rooms that could have concealed anything–or anyone–I was more than a little on edge. Every time I left that ghastly place, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I could feel the tension leaving my shoulders. Power of suggestion or not, I was always damn happy to leave.

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The tower where the mad doctor jumped to his death was the other location that made me extremely uncomfortable. Looking up through the gloom at the rusted metal ladder, I was grateful the tower’s windows were bricked up, making the climb pointless.

Even I have my limits

Even I have my limits

Near the end of my visit, when I knew my trusty water taxi was already on its way back, I felt brave enough to speak to the ghosts of Poveglia.

“Hello?” I said, stupidly, before remembering I was addressing Italian-speaking phantoms.

As soon as I repeated the greeting in Italian, there was a noise from the next room. Was it something falling or shifting? The building settling?

Or was the soft-yet-deliberate thud someone’s attempt to communicate?

I’m not sure, but I do know I convinced myself that spending the last ten minutes outside on the shore was a fantastic idea.

Would you visit Poveglia on your own? Any questions for me? I’m happy to share my experiences with you.

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39 Comments

  1. I did some research on Poveglia, and I visited a few years ago
    but even the shadow of ghosts

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Angelo!

      It’s a spooky place, that’s for sure.

      Reply
  2. First – yeh, you’re back! 🙂

    Second – you are one brave woman!

    Third – you HAVE to work the whole water-taxi driver moment/line into a story/novel. It would make a fantastic, eerie scene.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi, Madeline! It’s great to be back, although I do miss Italy.

      Yeah, as soon as he said that, I thought, “That is how I’m going to start my post.”

      I’m such a writer sometimes. 😀

      Reply
      • Totally read the first line in a manly Italian voice in my head. 🙂
        You are one crazy, courageous, curious chick! What a freaky experience.
        The tombstone is super creepy.
        So cool that you conquered Poveglia alone.

        Reply
        • JH

          Thanks Lisa! It would have been nice to have someone with me, but I don’t think the experience would have had the same intensity.

          Reply
  3. You are braver than me my friend!

    Although it would have been pretty cool to explore the island….

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s my job. 😉

      Reply
  4. Ok, first I have to say…you lucky gal to have gone to Venice! My hubby and I were there in 2009 and loved it! We did not go to this island but I would go in a heart beat! It’s amazing how we can sense things even if we are sceptical. I would love to see More pictures. Was there any building you actually found beautiful even in its dilapidated state? When I was in Paris I went to the Musee De Moyen Age which was great. It used to be an old Abbey and now houses beautiful pieces from the medieval era. They were excavating in the back since they found a very old part and there were tombs of. Knights. My ex and I went into one with a tomb and I felt so uneasy that I told my ex I had to leave. I felt like someone was watching…very eerie

    Reply
    • JH

      That is eerie. I didn’t feel like anything was watching me–it was more like a weight, or extreme pressure, in my stomach and on my shoulders when I was in certain areas. Intense uneasiness, like I couldn’t catch my breath or relax. I was very much on edge, especially when I was in the asylum and the tower.

      If you connect me with me on Facebook, I have an entire album of photos I took on the island…too many to share in a post. And yes, I found the way nature was taking over some of the buildings beautiful–in a creepy sort of way. 🙂

      Reply
  5. What a great experience! I’d love to visit this place, but maybe not alone. The way my luck works, some crumbling piece of plaster would conk me on the head and nobody would find me!

    Reply
    • JH

      True, there’s usually safety in numbers…except in horror movies.

      Reply
    • JH

      I was pretty careful for just that reason. Still, there’s no guarantees in a place that’s missing a good portion of its ceilings already!

      Reply
  6. Nope. Nope. Noooooope. Are you crazy, lady??? Wait, you don’t have to answer. Yes, you are. I wouldn’t go there alone or in the dark. Maybe with about 30 people during the day, but I’d still be scared out of my mind.

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, it wasn’t THAT bad.

      Actually, it kind of was. Never mind…

      Reply
  7. Ain’t gonna happen for me. No way would I go there. Glad to see you back blogging.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Denise! It was a good break for me. I really needed to recharge.

      Reply
  8. It is great to have you back. And talking about back … never do that sort of thing alone again! Arrange it so that someone you trust has your back. “Alone” makes for a great book, but there are no re-writes in real life. Forget about ghosts … ah, all right at that spot that would be out of the question … but accidents happen to the most intrepid, capable people … and there are some wounds that take an extra pair of hands to staunch the flow of blood.

    Just saying is all. I want you around for a loooong time. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Don’t worry, Roland. 🙂 I had someone I trusted back at the hotel looking out for me. He left instructions to follow if I wasn’t back by a certain time. I also knew the driver would come back for me because he was paid AFTER he dropped me safely at the hotel.

      I was also very careful about where I stepped and tested floors, stairs, etc. before putting my weight on them.

      So I’m brave but not foolhardy!

      Reply
  9. You’re back!!!! *HAPPY DANCE*

    You are brave for climbing those stairs. I would’ve gone up the first few then tried to get onto those little pieces and chickened out. With my bad back, I’m always afraid of falling and becoming paralyzed.

    I so would’ve investigated these places, though. Even if I was scared. It was once in a life time, and I’m glad you were brave enough to do this. I can just imagine your writer brain working. Plus, it gave us an awesome blog post. 😀

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Chrys! I’m (mostly) happy to be back. Left part of my heart in Italy, I must admit.

      To be honest, getting back down the stairs was a lot worse than going up. For a moment, I considered staying up there forever, and then realized that was a great incentive to get my butt down those stairs!

      Reply
  10. Hooray for your safe return, and hooray for a sensational trip. For only having followed your blog for a brief time, I’m a little surprised how much I missed it! It was fun to see your photos and to read this amazing story. Having experienced my own supernatural moment, I can imagine the tension and underlying terror that would accompany a solo trip to such a spooky place. Well done you. Nerves of Steel Moncrieff, is your new name.

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks Ryan! That’s so nice of you to say. I’m back for a while, so there will be many spooky stories in your future. 🙂

      – N.O.S. Moncrieff

      Reply
  11. Welcome back!
    I wouldn’t go there alone, but mostly because I’d be worried about injury or being trapped and no one finding me for a while. (If the water taxi man would’ve even bothered to look.) You are one brave lady.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Alex! I was really careful, and I knew the hotel staff would sound the alarm if I wasn’t back by a certain time.

      That said, I definitely took some risks. I was lucky.

      Reply
  12. Love this post and all the pics. Can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this island at all, even though I’ve been to Venice a couple of times. It’s one of my fav places in the world and I’ll def have to go back and check this out. Would love to know more about the history of the island…

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Theresa! If you read my earlier post about it (the one I link to in this one), there’s quite a bit of history.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  13. This sounds terrifying and fascinating in equal measure. I would absolutely love to get there, even though I can confidently say it would scare me half to death!
    Debbie

    Reply
  14. Ha! This is great. Research at its best! You’ll never have to imagine what a pounding heart feels like. 🙂

    Heather

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for sharing! I can’t believe how beautiful you made it look. It was so creepy when I was there.

      Reply
  15. Hi!

    I read this and it creeped me out just reading it! I’m wondering, did you have to get any special permission to visit or did you just go?

    X

    Reply
    • JH

      I just went. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Excellent first hand research for your novels. I wonder if the rusty contraptions in your top picture are of the laundry? In the Hill House in St. Paul, they had a similar area where they could hang the clothes and the heat and air would dry them.

    I would never go to a spooky island by myself, but I love reading about your experience. Looking forward to the stories it is creating in you.

    Good luck with NaNo!

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…you could be right, Mary, but I wonder what the springs underneath were for…heat? So bizarre.

      Thanks for your kind comments! I’m glad you enjoy these stories.

      Reply
  17. I have really enjoyed reading all about your trip to Poveglia island, it’s making me want to get there even more. I am going to Lido Venice at the end of February and really want to go to the island, I’m struggling to find links and info on how to get there, is there any advice or info u can give me as to who will take me and how I go about it please? Thankyou

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Lorna,

      The only way I found is to pay a water taxi, which can be arranged through your hotel. It costs 100 Euros each way–it might be less coming from Lido, since Lido is closer. Totally worth it! No tours go there, and neither does the public transportation. Good luck! Let me know if you go.

      Reply
  18. No, not all alone. I wondered if you fell when climbing those stairs and hurt yourself too badly to move, if there was phone reception, or if the driver would look for you or call help if you didn’t meet him.

    Reply
    • JH

      If the driver didn’t, the hotel manager would have. He knew exactly when to expect me back. If I hadn’t shown up, he would have called for help.

      Reply

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