September 2019: Haunted places are an obsession of mine and when I discovered Poveglia Island- a small island believed to be one of the most haunted places on Earth with a dark history extending all the way back to Venetian times, where up to 160,000 people are believe to have been banished to die and the location of an abandoned mental asylum, where an evil doctor tortured his patients-I knew that I had found the Mecca of scary places. To make the trip happenn, I planned a multi-day stop-over in venice on the way back from South Osettia and Moscow, Russia.

About Poveglia Island

History of Poveglia island:

  • Used as a fortress by Venetians to protect lagoon in 1600’s
  • Quarantine station during black plague times where the bodies of up to a 160,000 victims infected with the plague were sent to buried or cremated in plague pits. Many of the victims were sent to the island while they were still alive and abandoned in plague pits to die.  Somany bodies were buried or cremated that its believed that the island’s soil is 50% human ash. 
  • Used by Napolean’s troops to store munitions and the site of battles
  • In 1922 became an asylum for the mentally insane, where a mad surgeon tortured his patients conducting experiements and lobotomies without anesthesia. The surgeon, believed to have gone mad, jumped to his death from the bell tower. 
  • Island was left abandoned in the past few decades
  • Since 2014, multiple parties have purchased the island with the hope to renovate it and build hotels, but the island remains abandoned

Red Pin is the Location of Poveglia island in Venice lagoon

Poveglia Island is widely believed to be haunted by ghost hunters and locals alike. The island is steeped in legend and supersition. These legends are are a mix of fact and fiction and God only knows what is real and what isn’t, but everyone loves a good ghost story and I for one am no exception. 

The island is illegal to visit and visitors can be arrested for trespassing. Because of this and because the island has some serious bad vibes, it is very hard to find a boat man in Venice who is willing to take you to the island. Most will flatly refuse to take you. With this in mind, I asked a friend of mine who was in Venice for a wedding a few months before my trip to ask around for any willing gondoliers to take us. My friend found one venetian man willing to take us. The only catch would be that he would not step foot on the island with us and according to him, we were on our own. To get to Poveglia Island, you first need to visit Venice. Venice with its history, canals and stunning architecture is one of the most magical cities I have visited. Despite the large numbers of tourists, even during the offseason like when I was there in November, it is well worth a visit.

Hauntings of Poveglia Island

Poveglia island remains the final resting place for a hundred thousand plus souls and many of them are believed to still wonder the island..some considered by ghost hunters to be malignant. The most malignant spirit is said to be the mad surgeon who tortured his patients in the mental asylum. In an act of revenge from the dead, the ghosts of his tortured patients reportedly pushed him off of the top of the bell tower to his death. When he didn’t die right away after the fall, a nurse witnessing the fall observed a black mist covering his body while suffocating the life from him. Given the very dark history of Paveglio island, it is no wonder that it is has a reputation for being one of the most haunted places in the world. During recent years, interested parties have purchased the island and attempted to live there or develop it only to leave after having bad un-explainable experiences. The daughter of one family was nearly torn from her face but a dark entity on the island. A renovation with scaffolding around the outside buildings was mysteriously abandoned and the island has been left to nature to reclaim. On occasion there are curious amateur ghost hunters or urban explorers like me, who visit the island and even try to stay the night. Some have fled in terror. One group of Americans attempting to spend the night needed to be evacuated by the authorities because they claimed they were being terrorized by demonic spirits. 

Exploring Poveglia Island

Our gondolier, a native Venetian man, one of the few that still live in the old city, and I agreed on a meeting point in one of the canals. From there we set off in his motorized boat. My friends and I hired the boat on an hourly basis and the expectation was that we would stay at Poveglia until nightfall. If we stayed too late however, we would be in danger of getting stuck there overnight because of the falling tides that would make the lagoon too shallow to navigate back to Venice.

Venice Canals

Venice Canals

Our trip to Poveglia took approximately an hour. We departed in the afternoon, passing the islands of Lazaretto Nuovo and Lazzaretto Vecchio-two other islands with known plague pits.  When we arrived at Poveglia Island, the weather was overcast creating the the perfect eerie setting for our visit. My giggest concern was the police or security guards and not ghosts. But there were no signs of anyone on the island and aside from a lone boat of highschool kids drinking beer and smoking weed just offshore, there were no other boats. The gondolier dropped us off at the dock and then pushed off to the lagoon where he would wait for us just offshore. 

Our gondolier boat

Our gondolier boat

Old wooden boat dock

Poveglia Island

As we stepped off on to the island, the high school kids waved at us as they departed and one asked me if I was afraid of the phantismos-Italian word for ghosts. No tresspassing signs were posted intermittently around the dock area. Abandoned scaffolding lined some of the buildings. The bell tower, where the mad surgeon is believed to have jumped or was pushed to his death, loomed over us. The bell, known to ring on its own from time to time, didn’t ring while we were on the island.

Poveglia Island-Bell Tower in Foreground

Abandoned scaffolding on the side of some buildings

Bushwhacking through overgrown vegetation

We battled thick scub, thorns, building debris likely containing asbestos, nails and unstable structures on verge of collapse but we loved ever second.

Nature Reclaiming the buildings

Eerie doorway

Chapel room

Rotting bridge that connected to the other side of the island where a plague pit exists

Random bathtub outside a building 

What might have been another chapel

We climbed the clocktower believed to be hanuted by the mad surgeon. A staircase going up several flights to the top was missing stairs and even a floor in some section. The climb was treacherous and one wrong move and you could fall and be impaled on rebar. There was lots of grafitti in Italian. Most of the graffiti was about ghosts, demons, some pentagons. It’s obvious that local kids have been here to party and have some fun. 

What might have been another chapel

What might have been another chapel

There were no real foot trails and the forest was so thick in between buildings that we were split up from each other at one point. This of course is how people always die in horror movies. Even though there was no sign of anyone on the island, and no one lives there, on one occasion when I was walking through the forest, I heard a large sound and saw a large dark shape move through the forest. We did on occasion see and hear rabbits on the island, but the large object was something else. I figured it might have been a homeless person, but this was unlikely. I never did find out what the moving object was. 

Ominous hallway

natural light entering from a hole in the roof lights up the inside of a room

Wes exploring 

At one point I broke off from the group and ventured into some of the smaller rooms. It was completely dark, and the sun had mostly set. I admit there was definitely a creepy dark feeling to the place, but I never saw anything that was supernatural. At times I did have a spider sense that something was watching me, but I chalk this up to just being in a creepy place. 

An area that contains industrial sized dryers 

Exploring Venice

I really wanted to sleep over night in Poveglia but tidal fluctuations and our busy next day schedule to San Marino meant that we would just need to settle for being there at night. No one ended up seeing any ghosts, but we all had a lot of fun. We waved down our gondolier and set off back to Venice before the tide dropped. Along the way we passed through narrow canals under bridges and even through a tunnel beneath a building. 

Nighttime is the best time to see Venice in my opinion. I left my friends and set off purpsedly getting lost in the winding alleyways and canals. This is the time when the ghosts of Venice really appear. 

Venice at night

Venice at night

Venice canal tunnel

Old church

6 + 3 =

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