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Venetian Island of Death and Misery.

Venetian Island of Death and Misery.
10 July 2016 1 Comments

For years I’ve been fascinated by things that go bump in the night, of haunted houses and castles and those unexplained, often terrifying sightings of ghosties and ghoulies. I’ve written stories on places like Hermitage Castle in Scotland, riddled with death and misery, which I visited some years ago. I lasted only several minutes amongst its ruins; something was telling me to leave the place and I did, rather quickly! For the most part my wanderings into this strange world has led me to an extensive number of haunted locations in the UK, which is blessed you might say with an overabundance of such things! When I created the Perfect Traveller Pinterest account I added a board titled and you guessed it, “Things that go Bump in the Night!” I often don my Sherlock Holmes persona and go looking for new material, to keep you and myself entertained.

Over these many years I’ve been surprised by the fact that considering the violent history played out in so many locations around Italy over hundreds and hundreds of years, why this country hardly rates a mention on the European RickerScale of hauntings and nasty bumps in the night? That is until you stumble across the story behind the rather pretty (at least in broad daylight) Poveglia Island, resplendently located on the Venetian lagoon and really only a stone’s throw from St. Marks square. Now this place demands my attention and the more I delved into its past the more disturbing its story became. Some have even described it as one of the most haunted locations on the planet, but also one of the most evil places in the world! But why? Even today the public is not permitted to step foot on the island although a few locals harvest the vineyards. Fishermen even steer clear of the island for fear that they will catch human bones in their nets.

Death has been a constant visitor to this island, as far back as the Roman period when the place was used to isolate diseased and dying people. This fact should not come as a surprise to anybody. For centuries the Tiber Island in Rome itself was used for the same purpose. Poveglia Island was put to the same purpose again in the middle ages when the plague appeared on European shores. Many believe the rats infested with the fleas carrying the virus arrived on Venetian ships from trading in the east. That may explain why Venice suffered often and brutally from the spread of this unstoppable disease. We are told that the dead were dumped into large pits and buried or burned. As the plague tightened its grip, the population began to panic and with the compliance of the “Plague Doctors” of Venice those residents showing the slightest sign of sickness were taken from their homes and transported to the island of Poveglia kicking and screaming and pleading. They were thrown onto piles of rotting corpses and set ablaze.  Men, women, children were all left to die in agony. It’s estimated that the tiny island became the last tormented resting place for as many as 160,000 bodies during this time! The island is littered with thousands of skeletons close to the surface of a thick layer of sticky ash and horrible to be walking on, but very good for the vineyards that grow here.

As recently as 1922 the local government created a psychiatric hospital on the island. The patients of the hospital immediately began to report that they would see ghosts of plague victims on the island and that they would be kept up at night hearing the tortured wails of the suffering spirits. Because they were already considered mad by the hospital staff, these complaints were largely ignored. The story if it is true became a real nightmare when a doctor there decided to experiment on his subjects to find a cure for insanity.  Lobotomies were performed on his unfortunate patients using crude tools like hand drills, chisels, and hammers. According to the locals here, after many years of performing these immoral acts, the evil doctor began to see the tortured plague ridden spirits of Poveglia Island himself. It is said that they led him to the bell tower where he jumped (or was thrown) to the grounds below. The fall did not kill him according to a nurse who witnessed the event, and she spoke about a mist that came up out of the ground and choked him to death. It’s rumored that the doctor is bricked up in the hospital bell tower and on a still night, the bell can be heard tolling across the bay. Needless to say the hospital closed down! Today Poveglia is uninhabited and tourism to the island is strictly forbidden and it is true that from time to time the lapping waves on the shore uncover charred human bones.

Several psychics have visited the island and the abandoned hospital in recent years, but all of them left scared to death of what they had sensed there.  There has been the occasional intrepid ghost-buster sneak on to the island and one report from an injudicious thrill seeker who fled the island in a state of fear and panic said that after entering the abandoned hospital, a disembodied voice ordered him, “Leave immediately and do not return.” He never did. Would you?

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

1 Comments

  1. Jo Davidson Reply

    In the early 80s 4 of us -Australian artist visiting Venice for the biennale were given permission to camp on the island of Poveglia as part of a project an American artist John Halpern de Leva was devising establishing ‘international vernacular museums ‘ . We spent 5 months there thru the summer living in the lavandaria building and borrowed a tinny from the then professor of Australian Literature Bernard Hickey to get back and forth to the island with fresh water and supplies. We met a number of notable characters whilst there including regular visits from Senior Scarpi and his dogs – the farmer from the other side of the island. We experienced none of the horrors you mention . We were all glad of a place to work and very productive enjoying our time there and with nothing but fond memories of the island
    We fully explored the place and had many adventures in the tin boat around Venice . The thought of the place being such a horror show did not occur – more idyllic!

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