Poveglia Island: All About Venice’s Haunted Island

August 8, 2023

Did you know that one of the most haunted spots in Italy is located in Venice? Poveglia Island, consisting of three small islands, is exactly that.

When it comes to this island, it’s a little hard to tell what is true and what is made up, as many suspicions and tales surround the island (mainly due to its previous uses).

Poveglia Island in the distance

Poveglia Island is an intriguing landmark in Venice, with a reputation for being haunted. Photo credit: Rick Turner

Let’s explore this island together and let you decide if its hauntings are real, or just legend.

Poveglia Island: What is it?

Poveglia comprises a set of three islands, with two being naturally formed, and the third resembling Venice through the use of wooden pillars and layers of earth. One island is entirely vegetation, the other houses the main buildings, and finally, the smallest is an octagon, used as a small fort to protect the island and act as a fort before reaching Venice. You’ll find Poveglia floating off the southwest end of Lido di Venezia. Today the island only hosts a few small buildings on the main island that is entirely abandoned.

A view inside a building on Poveglia Island in Venice, displaying some abandoned machinery

Today Poveglia Island is closed off to the general public. Photo credit: True British Metal

History of Poveglia Island

The island first welcomed inhabitants in the 7th century, and throughout the following years, it grew into a peaceful little community that avoided invasions occurring on the mainland. By avoiding the mainland, they also were lucky enough to avoid taxes, creating a very happy community. They would often trade with nearby Pellestrina but mostly avoided the Italian Peninsula.

In the 14th century, the Chioggia War, an extended conflict between the maritime republics of Genoa and Venice, led to the abandonment of the island. The population was then relocated to the main part of Venice, mainly on the island of Giudecca. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it was put to use again as a storage location for the Republic of Venice.

Subsequently, in 1776, it came under the jurisdiction of the local Public Health Office. Initially serving as a form of Customs control, it was later repurposed as a site for plague control.

A view of Poveglia Island at night time, with storm clouds in the distance

Poveglia Island has gained a reputation as one of the most haunted places in Italy. Photo credit: Crow

In 1793 two ships who stopped for a check were noted to have several cases of the plague, they were forced to stop here, and from then on the island became a plague quarantine site. With Venice’s other two quarantine islands of Lazzaretto Nuovo and Lazzaretto Vecchio both full, patients were now sent here to Poveglia.

Even after the plague had subsided, it maintained its role as a quarantine station for ships en route to Venice. In the 20th century, it transformed into the site of a psychiatric hospital. Today, the island remains completely deserted and is government-owned. However, there have been several endeavors to sell it to private owners.

Haunted Poveglia: The stories behind the island

50% of the Island Earth is Made of Human Ash

At least that is one of the rumors floating around. With all the victims of the plague, the hospital didn’t know how to get rid of the bodies, so they decided to burn them. While this does sound reasonable, research shares a different story. The exact number differs but it seems there were about 100,000 victims, and rather than being burned, they were left in so-called “plague pits.”

It’s tough to say which version of the story might be creepier.

Regardless of how the bodies were disposed of, tens of thousands of individuals lost their lives on the island and were left there.

A crazy doctor?

Another version of the story says that the asylum’s director went crazy and jumped off the clock tower. But according to legend, it wasn’t the jump that caused his death—it was a mysterious fog. This doctor was known for being a bit “mad” and for doing experiments on patients, including performing several lobotomies.

However, even though you might frequently encounter this story in different narratives about Poveglia, it actually originated in US television series like Ghostbusters! There is no concrete evidence to support the existence of such a doctor on the island or any record of a suicide attempt (but there was an asylum on the island).

A view inside Poveglia Psychatric Hospital, in Venice, displaying the abandoned elements including some unknown devices and machinery

Rumors and tales circulate about the events that took place on Poveglia Island. Photo credit: True British Metal

Ghosts of the plague

Another legend of the island tells us that the patients of the psychiatric hospital would often see the ghosts of the plague and feel even more tortured by these visions. These stories unfortunately cannot be fully confirmed, so it remains (yet another) another mystery of Poveglia Island.

The truth about Poveglia Island

While there are many exaggerated stories, one thing is certain: for such a small island, an immense number of individuals have lost their lives here. Whether due to the horrors of the plague, the battles of Venice and Napoleon conducted on and around the island, or even the passage of time spent in a mental hospital.

Seeing the abandoned land and the destroyed structures, you can’t help but feel the weight of the patients who lived here and contemplate the sad stories of the island.

What’s left of Poveglia Island

There was once the ancient San Vitale church; however, it was destroyed when Napoleon Bonaparte passed through. Today, only the bell tower remains. Thankfully this ancient structure was saved due to its useful function as a lighthouse. The clock you see dates back to 1745.

Insider’s tip: You can still catch a glimpse of the ancient church in nearby Malamocco on Lido di Venezia, where the island’s unique crucifix of stucco and chalk is held.

Other structures still present on the island are the hospital, the psychiatric ward, and the prisons.

A view inside Poveglia Psychatric Hospital, in Venice, displaying an abandoned building and its hallways

Many of the buildings on Poveglia Island remain intact today. Photo credit: True British Metal

Can you visit Poveglia Island?

Presently, Poveglia island remains closed to visitors. However, since the island is state-owned, you have the option of seeking special permission from the Municipality to visit. Typically, such permission is granted for purposes like film crews, photography projects, or research.

But, it’s worth pointing out that all of the remaining structures have been left in rubble and aren’t very safe to explore. Most of the stairs and ceilings have collapsed and vegetation has taken over.

by Evelyn Hill

View more by Evelyn ›

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