With Halloween quickly approaching, it’s time we take a look at Italy’s own spooky history. Although it’s certainly not the only eerie and mysterious location in Italy, the island of Poveglia is often hailed as the most hair-raising place one can visit in the peninsula and even the most haunted island in the world. Only a short taxi-boat ride away from Venice, Poveglia has become known as “The Island of Death” for its extremely sinister history.
In 1348, the bubonic plague or “black death” first arrived in the city of Venice. Fearful of the continuing spread of the disease, Venice began to forcibly remove the infected from the city limits and relocate them to the island of Poveglia. It is estimated that during this period of removal and quarantine more than 100,000 people died on the island. There are also historical accounts to suggest that the dead bodies from the colony of plague victims began to crowd the island to such a degree that massive body-burnings were necessary in order to clear space for more infected people.
For a 46-year period, Poveglia was transformed into a hospital and asylum for the mentally ill. A remote and cryptic complex, the asylum was rumored to be experimental and unethical in the practice of many of its “treatments.” For instance, it has been reported that the hospital staff experimented with “crude lobotomies” with its patients, contributing to the island’s already staggering death toll.
Legend has it that one doctor even threw himself off of the asylum’s bell tower after he had gone mad from being haunted by ghosts of the island. From the end of the asylum’s functioning in 1968, it has since been estimated that upwards of 160,000 people have died there since the 14th century. It is also said that approximately half of the island’s soil is comprised of human ash alone, with untold numbers of shallow graves scattered throughout the land.
After the asylum was officially closed in 1968, the property was sold to a private owner for a short period of time. Shortly after the sale, this owner then sold the island to yet another private owner. This second owner, however, abandoned the property and ever since the island has been completely vacant. Currently, the island is officially off limits to visitors without a government permit, yet many boat-taxis in Venice will gladly take tourists there. To this day, bones still wash up on the shore and many visitors even report hearing screams from the island itself!