March 21, 2024 | Kaddy Gibson

Poveglia Island, The Most Haunted Place On Earth


Welcome To The World’s Most Haunted Island

Just off the coast of Venice, in the Venetian Lagoon, is where you’ll find one of the world’s most chilling sites: Poveglia Island. 

Despite the beautiful locale, the island is steeped in darkness, from its days as a desolate quarantine site to its time as a heinous mental asylum. Paranormal activity is rife on Poveglia, leading some to call it the most haunted place in the world. 

But are the ghost stories true? Let's find out.

poveglia island

Three’s Company

Poveglia is actually a set of three islands. 

One island has been taken over by vegetation, another is the site of the main buildings, and the smallest island is an octagonal fortress.

Aerial view of the island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyPietro Basilico, Shutterstock

The First Inhabitants

Though no one walks there now, Poveglia was once home to a thriving, peaceful community

The first mention of the island is in historical records from 421. That’s when the first inhabitants, who were fleeing war in northern Italy, reached its shores.

Poveglia a small island located between Venice and Lido in the Venetian LagoonMarco Usan, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

A Peaceful Community

A small community began to grow on Poveglia and the island reached the height of its power in the 7th century. 

The people there traded with the nearby island of Pellestrina and didn’t have to pay taxes since they were far from the Italian mainland.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyPandora Pictures, Shutterstock

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Abandoned For The First Time

Sadly, Poveglia’s time of glory came to an end in 1379

Poveglia was caught in the middle of the Chiogga War, waged between Venice and Genoa, so the people relocated to the safety of mainland Venice.

A view from the lagoon of Poveglia island, cloudy sky in backgroundLuca.favorido, Wikimedia Commons

The Fort

Poveglia remained abandoned for hundreds of years. The island saw a bit of life in 1645, when the Venetian government constructed octagonal forts to control the lagoon. 

Of the four fortresses, the one at Poveglia is the only one still standing today.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyPandora Pictures, Shutterstock

Venice Takes Over

In 1776, the Venetian Public Health Office took control of Poveglia. At first, they used the island as a Customs checkpoint. 

But in 1793, everything changed, and the island came to serve a much darker purpose.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyJean-Pierre Dalbéra, Flickr

The Plague Ships

In 1793, two ships docked at Poveglia—and they were carrying something far more deadly than any trade goods. 

There were several cases of plague on both ships, and the Venetian government refused to let them get any further to the mainland.

Landscape view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyAngelo Meneghini, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Quarantine

With the plague ships stuck at the island, Poveglia was turned into a temporary quarantine site. 

Anyone suffering from the highly contagious disease was sent to the island and ultimately left there to die.

Landscape view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyAngelo Meneghini, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Plague Pits

To deal with all the people succumbing to the plague, the authorities built “plague pits”. 

They would fill these pits with the bodies of the departed, and light them on fire or bury them once they got full.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyPandora Pictures, Shutterstock

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The Death Toll

It’s estimated that up to 160,000 people were buried in the pits. Because of this, it’s said that the dirt on Poveglia is 50% human ashes.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Napoleon Comes To Town

Poveglia’s use as quarantine zone was meant to be temporary, but this changed in 1805. 

That’s when Napoleon Bonaparte made the island a permanent quarantine zone. He also destroyed the island’s church of San Vitale and made the bell tower into a lighthouse.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

A New Purpose

In 1814, the island’s quarantine zone was closed. In 1922, it was given a new purpose: as an asylum

This was supposed to be a place of healing for mentally ill patients. Instead, it became a living hell.

Abandoned Asylum on Poveglia Island in ItalyJames Kerwin, Shutterstock

The Deranged Doctor

Rumor has it that the doctor who ran the asylum liked to perform torturous experiments on his patients. 

Lobotomies were his favorite form of torment, but if the ghost stories are to be believed, this eventually caused the doctor’s downfall.

Poveglia Psychatric Hospital, Poveglia Psychatric Hospital, Venice.True British Metal, Flickr

A Fitting End

Eventually, the doctor himself went mad and jumped to his demise from the clock tower. 

It’s said that the ghosts of his patients drove him crazy, and that an eerie fog was seen around him just before he jumped.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Haunted

Considering its history steeped in death and suffering, is it really a surprise that Poveglia is rumored to be haunted? 

Some fishermen claim to have heard screams or moaning sounds from the island. They’ve even heard the bell tower ringing—even though the bell has been gone for hundreds of years.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyKagan Kaya, Shutterstock

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Little Maria

More than just making odd sounds, some of Poveglia’s ghostly residents are determined to be seen. 

Little Maria, a child who probably succumbed to the plague, is one of the most popular spirits. For more than 400 years, there have been sightings of her wandering on the beach, crying.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Pietro

Several spirits remain from the island’s time as an asylum. An amputee named Pietro used to race his wheelchair down the halls of the asylum. 

Now, people say you can hear the squeaking of his wheelchair in the empty halls.

A stunning view of the Poveglia island. A traditional Venetian church with a clock tower overlooking a peaceful body of water at sunsetIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

More Spirits

Frederico, another patient, has been seen grinning and laughing. That's a sharp contrast to the terrified young woman who has also been spotted on the island. 

People say she’s still afraid of the evil doctor.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyPandora Pictures, Shutterstock

The Nursing Home

After its days as an asylum, Poveglia was used as a long-term care facility. But this didn’t last long—some claim the new patients were haunted by the island’s ghosts and this prompted the move to close the island. 

Whatever the truth may be, Poveglia was closed in 1968, and has been abandoned ever since.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyPandora Pictures, Shutterstock

The Future Of Poveglia

Despite the island’s eerie history, some people believe there’s hope for a thriving future. In recent years, the Venetian government has tried to re-develop Poveglia. 

Unfortunately, the island’s ghosts are too restless to allow anything new to be built.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Bad Business

Though the Venetian government has made a few building agreements over the years, they always fall through under mysterious circumstances. 

When people have tried to reconstruct the island’s decrepit buildings, there were too many eerie, unexplainable incidents, which sent construction crews running back to the mainland.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

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A Mayoral Bid

Even though nothing new has been built on the island for hundreds of years, the Venetian government is still trying to sell Poveglia. 

In 2014, Italian entrepreneur and eventual mayor of Venice Luigi Brugnaro announced a €20 million plan to restore the island. Sadly, the deal fell through.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Poveglia per Tutti

In 2015, an organization called Poveglia per Tutti tried to raise funds to restore Poveglia and make it a new tourist hotspot. They aimed to raise €25 million, with the hopes of building a new park, marina, restaurant, and study center.

Many Venetians supported this new initiative, but the island still remains abandoned.

A serene dusk scene of Poveglia uninhabited island in the middle of a body of waterIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Small Success

At first, Poveglia per Tutti seemed successful. The Venetian government granted the organization access to the island for maintenance. 

But in early 2018, the government reneged.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Forbidden Land

In February 2018, the Venetian government announced plans to repurpose Poveglia. 

They officially prohibited anyone from stepping foot on the island and forbade people from docking any closer than 20 meters, which was an unprecedented move.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Better Left Alone

While there have been several efforts to reclaim Poveglia from its restless spirits, perhaps its best that the island remains abandoned. 

Local fishermen still give Poveglia a wide berth, and with good reason.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Remnants Of The Departed

Fishermen who have been brave enough to go near the island’s shores say that on clear days, you can see skulls and bones beneath the surface of the water. 

If they happen to catch a piece of bone in their nets, the whole catch is thrown back to the sea, rather than risk any supernatural consequences.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

World Famous

The eerie atmosphere of Poveglia has led some to call it the most haunted place in the world. 

Because of this, the island has been featured on several paranormal shows, including Ghost Adventures and Scariest Places on Earth.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Poveglia Tourism

Because of the dilapidated buildings and its chilling reputation, Poveglia is closed to the public. However, anyone who wishes to brave the island can seek special authorization from the Venetian government. 

This must be done well in advance of your visit and it’s rare for the government to accept these kinds of requests from tourists.

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Poveglia is a beautiful, haunting remnant of the past. The island's history of sorrow has marked it unexplainable ways, and it seems like despite the Venetian's government's best efforts to rebuild things, the spirits of Poveglia remain the true owners of the island. 

Perhaps it's better than way. Perhaps leaving it untouched and peacefully isolated is the best way to honor all those who met their final days on Poveglia Island. 

Aerial view of the plagued ghost island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon Venice, ItalyIngus Kruklitis, Shutterstock


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