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Poveglia Island - Haunted, Abandoned and Terrifying

A quarantine station, a dumping place for plague victims, and a mental hospital, the tiny island of Poveglia in the Venice Lagoon of Italy has served many sad and disturbing purposes over the years. Today it stands abandoned, a crumbling collection of deserted buildings and weeds. Legends and rumors about Poveglia run rampant. The island’s past reads like a horror story and the horror continues as Poveglia is said to be very haunted.

During the black plague, so many people were burned and buried there that the soil is supposedly 50% human ash. Local fisherman avoid the island in fear of catching bones rather than fish. The psychiatrist who ran the mental hospital tortured and  butchered his patients and then went mad, throwing himself from the island’s bell tower, only to survive the fall and be strangled by a “ghostly mist” that emerged from the ground.

The last known use of the island was a home for the indigent elderly and was abandoned in 1968. The island has been empty ever since. Twenty years ago, work crews hastily erected scaffolding all along the main buildings’ frontage — not to fix them up but merely to delay their falling down.
The island’s first use was as a lazaretto, a quarantine island for maritime travelers opened in 1403, the first institution of its kind. Panicked officials shipped anyone displaying symptoms of plague, be they commoners or nobility, off to the lazarettos. Doctors wore long-nosed masks stuffed with herbs in an attempt to filter sickness from the air they breathed.

During the worst outbreaks, the island was quickly overrun with the dead and dying who were hastily shoveled into grave pits, and when those were full, burned. There are estimated to be many such grave pits on Poveglia, though their locations are unknown unless unearthed during construction, like the one pictured above. Local lore holds that the part of the island traditionally used for growing food holds most of the bodies.


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