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Mysterious Places: Island of ghosts?

When most people imagine Italy, they don’t think of the paranormal. Pasta, pizza, iconic ruins, Roman gods, passion–these things are usually what springs to mind.

But a little-known island could change that.

Located in the Venetian Lagoon, Poveglia is considered by some to be the world’s most haunted island. Whether or not that’s true, what’s not in dispute is its horrific, tragic history.

The first mention of the island dates back to 421, when people from nearby Padua and Este used Poveglia as a refuge from barbarian hordes.

The situation turned dark in the 1700s, when suspected plague victims were taken to the island against their will and left there to die. Notice I said suspected plague victims–there are reports that not everyone left on Poveglia was actually suffering from the disease. Imagine how horrible it must have been to be kidnapped and abandoned on this island of death.

Italy survived three major outbreaks of the plague, and in the 20th century, Poveglia was once again used to quarantine people who were believed to be carrying the dreaded disease. This time an insane asylum opened as well. Like something out of a horror movie, a crazed doctor performed horrific experiments on his patients, including lobotomies, until he killed himself in a spectacular fashion, leaping from a bell tower.

Poveglia bell tower

The bell tower, the asylum, the hospital and the church still remain. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of plague victims were burned and buried in pits on the island.

A plague pit found on nearby Lazeretto Vecchio

A plague pit found on nearby Lazeretto Vecchio

While much has been made of the fact that the Italian government doesn’t allow tourists on the island (there are a couple of tour groups that go, but they’re difficult to find), I think this has more to do with legalities than the paranormal. The island was used to quarantine thousands of people who had deadly infectious diseases. It’s also full of condemned buildings. This could explain why your average Italian has no desire to hang out there–it’s a rotting place full of dead bodies.

Poveglia has been the subject of at least two paranormal investigation shows, including this amusing episode of Ghost Adventures. It’s great for giving people an idea of what the island and its buildings actually look like, which is cool, but the “paranormal activity” is pretty amusing. One guy exclaims he’s never had such a high reading on a piece of equipment that immediately fails. Of course a ghost was responsible–not faulty equipment. And tripods never fall over on their own, nope. Especially not when they’re set up on an ancient curved wooden bridge.

I have to admit, the trio of “investigators” captured some bizarre “disembodied voices,” but I found the translations to be nothing more than wishful thinking. You’re in old buildings that are condemned–not only are they settling, they’re also falling down around your ears. Of course there’s going to be odd noises! At one point, the team claims a spirit mocked them by saying, “Bye bye.” It sounded like a bird to me.

That said, the guys showed guts when they split up and wandered around the island in pitch darkness by themselves. I don’t think I’d have the courage–ghosts or not, that place is creepy!

So of course I’ll be trying my best to visit it while I’m in Italy this spring. I’ve already seen the world’s most haunted forest–might as well try for the island too.

Would you visit Poveglia if you had the chance? Do you believe it could be haunted? What do you think of the Ghost Adventures episode? Do you think they actually captured paranormal activity? 

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31 Comments

  1. Not sure it’s haunted but I’m sure it’s dangerous. Buildings that old could collapse at any time. Shame, it looks rather cool from the air.

    Reply
    • JH

      It really does, doesn’t it? It looks beautiful from the air. In many cases, nature has taken over a lot of the buildings, which looks beautiful as well.

      Reply
  2. With that horrific history, there’s something lurking there, even if it’s not ghosts. I bet you can feel it, too, the closer you get to the place. Shudder!

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ll find out and report back! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Good luck and have fun. I hope it is as scary and creepy as you think it is. In this case, I’ll be living through your adventures. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anna! Hopefully I’ll return with an interesting story or two.

      Reply
  4. I’ve never heard of that island before. You couldn’t get me to go there. Have fun…be safe! Bring the Ghostbusters. 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Chrys. I wish I could, but I can’t afford them. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Ghosts or no ghosts, the Plague mass graves make it creepy and possibly dangerous. I’d be more scared of decrepid buildings and the fact that bacteria (like Y. pestis) can go dormant and survive for centuries than of the actual ghosts.

    That said, if the atmosphere is anywhere near as inexplicably oppressive as it is in the Ypres Salient, Belgium (WWI battlefields), I’d love to go and snoop around on that island!

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m looking forward to the atmosphere, Chris. I was hoping for more of that in the Romanian forest, but other than getting really sick, there wasn’t much.

      I’m not scared of picking up the plague, though I probably should be. I definitely won’t be digging around in the dirt for bones, though!

      Reply
  6. I’ve seen that episode of Ghost Adventures. Those shows are fun to watch, but I’m not sure about what they find. Sometimes I can see what they are pointing out, and other times it sounds/looks nothing like a ghost to me.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yay! I’m glad someone else has seen it. It seemed so silly to me, with all the overreaction and Zak getting “possessed” by the evil. Yeah, right.

      But talk about a setting where your imagination would totally run away with you!

      Reply
  7. I’ve heard of this place and kind of really want to go.

    Reply
    • JH

      Come with, Randee! You, me, and Italy in May. What could go wrong?

      Reply
  8. Oooh, spooky. Is that one of the places Ghost Hunters International went? They were all over a few islands, but I can’t remember which ones. And EVERY episode of Ghost Adventures is amusing. He didn’t get the name Zak Douch-Bagans for nothing! The funny thing is, if you watch the documentary that landed him the Ghost Adventures show, he was this dorky documentary guy. He gets a TV show and all of a sudden he’s hyped up on steroids, yelling at ghosts.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yeah, I was wondering about that. It was probably roid-rage rather than possession that made him snap at his camera man. 🙂

      I’m not sure if GHI went there too, but I wouldn’t be surprised! To be honest, these ghost-hunting shows annoy me. They’re all the same. “OMG, did you hear that?”

      “That” always turns out to be nothing.

      Reply
  9. Ooh I would love to go there and check it out. I think the past reality is more ghostly due to the horrible situations these people were in. Of course, being a bit macabre, I would like to learn more about this so called Dr. I will look him up. If there are spirits, I doubt they are silly enough to be caught on tape by this mystery bus..I mean these mean. On this show. I have seen the show but to this episode and I giggle because it is. So hyped up. If you are going to. Venice, you will love it! It is so wonderful.

    Reply
    • JH

      I am spending some time in Venice, Birgit. What do you recommend?

      And yeah, hyped up is an understatement…and a very polite way of putting it.

      Reply
      • I love museums so I went to the Art Museum there. I bought the tickets to enter the Doge’s palace at the Corer museum since you can’t buy one without the other. Very little line up at that museum where there is a huge line up at the Doge’s palace. You can just slip right on in. St. Mark’s is always a must but go first thing in the morning or late in afternoon to prevent waiting for long but expect being neck to neck with people. What I thought was simply amazing was not just the Frari Church but behind it are 2 smaller churches-actually one was not a church(can’t remember what it was) but it had the most amazing woodwork and Titian and Tintoretto paintings all over the walls and ceiling-pure magnificence!! It took my breath away. I also loved the island of Burano.

        Reply
  10. I’d go, but I wouldn’t want to stay overnight, not with the crumbling buildings, and who knows what critters scurrying about. It should be cleaned up. Most likely an investor will swoop in some day and make it a resort.

    Reply
    • JH

      I believe it was recently purchased, Mary. At the very least, I know it was for sale.

      A resort might be tricky, because all the bodies would have to be moved, and I’m not sure they know where everyone was buried. Unless it was a dark-themed resort.

      I’d love to stay overnight, but I’m saying that from a warm and comfy couch!

      Reply
  11. Like Chris Chelser said: the mass plague graves might pose a real threat, depending on how virulent the germs. The rotting buildings would be no fun for me to see either! So much inhumanity housed on such a tiny island. Sigh.

    Reply
    • JH

      I probably can’t change your mind, Roland, but in the daylight, the buildings are actually quite beautiful. Nature has taken over, and a lot of them are half manmade structure and half trees and vines.

      Really cool to see, but then again, I love taking photos in abandoned buildings. They all have stories to tell.

      Reply
  12. This place all the right elements for the supernatural to rise up and greet the tourist! Makes me itch to explore, but as I’ve said again and again, I’m kind of a sissy when it comes to dark, spooky and ghostly. Still, there’s a part of me that just has to take a peek.

    Reply
    • JH

      Come with, Lee! There’s always a spot for you on my trips.

      Reply
  13. Stumbled here from the A2Z Challenge. What a lovely discovery! As they say, I will be back!!!

    Reply
  14. Very sad use of the island. One can understand the level of fear the plague could instill and considering the lack of treatment it probably saved lives. Yet rats and fleas were supposed to have been the biggest spreaders of it, so one wonders if they did anything about that or if they even knew.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m guessing not, Barbara. It is quite sad. I can’t imagine how terrifying it was to be abandoned there and left for dead.

      Reply

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