There are a lot of ghost stories from history, but have you heard of the haunted island of Poveglia? Poveglia is a small island located between Venice and Lido in the Venetian Lagoon, Italy, and is one of the country’s darkest secrets. The island has a dark and tragic history, having been used as a quarantine station for plague victims in the 18th and 19th centuries, and later as a cruel asylum for the mentally ill.
Agricultural Paradise Turned Plague Island
The earliest known reference to the island of Poveglia dates all the way back to 421 AD. In its early years, the island was used primarily as a Roman military post. In the following centuries, the island was used for agriculture and fishing, and it was also home to a small community of fishermen and farmers. Overall, the island remained relatively peaceful and offered many resources to those who resided there. That is, until an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in the 18th century.
The Island of Poveglia where many deaths occurred during the Great Plague and later as an asylum. Source: Public Domain
The Plague, also known as the Black Death , was a highly contagious and deadly disease that spread rapidly throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Out of fear that the disease would continue to infect Italy, the island of Poveglia was converted into a quarantine station for ships arriving in Venice to prevent it from spreading further. Because of its isolation from the mainland, it was believed that this would be the best place to isolate the disease from the rest of Europe. Those suspected to be ill were forcibly sent to the island to receive treatment and wait out their quarantine.
Outbreak of the Plague. Later ill citizens were sent to the Island of Poveglia to quarantine. ( Public Domain )
Unfortunately, this plan was not effective. Plague patients on Poveglia were housed in large communal buildings called lazarettos, where they were often separated by gender and the severity of their symptoms. At many points, the island’s many buildings were overcrowded, unsanitary, and poorly ventilated, which made it easier for the disease to spread in these inhumane conditions. They were also treated ineffectively, often with primitive herbal remedies or with bloodletting, which led to further infections.
Due to the nature of the disease, many of the ill who were sent to the island never returned. Workers had to bury the bodies of the deceased on the island, and it is estimated that over 160,000 people died and were buried on the island between the 18th and 19th centuries. Some records even state that because the mortality rate was so high, workers ran out of space to bury the dead, resulting in alternative methods to dispose of the bodies including burning and leaving them in piles to decay.
From Plague Quarantine to Inhumane Asylum
After its use to quarantine Plague patients, Poveglia continued to be used as a place to treat the ill. During the 20th century, the island was converted into a place to treat the mentally ill, rather than those suffering from the Plague. Just like with the Plague patients, however, Poveglia once again became a place of serious neglect for those in need.
View of the hospital buildings on Poveglia. (Chris73/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )
As an asylum, the island became known for its inhumane treatment of patients, having countless reports of serious abuse, neglect, and barbaric medical procedures being performed on the patients. Reports state that patients were beaten, restrained, and left in solitary confinement for long periods of time.
Recorded examples of the inhumane treatments used on patients included electroconvulsive therapy, (it involves sending an electric current through your brain, causing a brief surge of electrical activity also known as a seizure, to relieve the symptoms of some mental health problems), lobotomies, and other experimental medical procedures. This treatment resulted in many patients dying cruel, painful deaths, only to be buried in the same dirt as thousands of Plague victims only a century before.
Poveglia Island’s Ghost Stories: Fact or Fiction?
Because of Poveglia’s dark and tragic history, it is often considered to be haunted. As a place that represents so much death and suffering, many people believe that the spirits of the Plague victims and patients who died in such cruel conditions still linger on the island.
With a history of so much death and suffering there are accounts of ghost sightings and an unsettling atmosphere. ( Africa Studio by AdobeStock)
There have been numerous reports of ghostly sightings and eerie noises on the island, including the sound of screams, moans, and laughter coming from the abandoned buildings. Some visitors have reported feeling a sense of dread or unease when visiting the island, and some have even claimed to have been physically attacked or pushed by unseen forces.
Additionally, the island’s isolation and abandonment for many years have contributed to its reputation as a haunted place. The island is off-limits to the public and has been decaying for decades, adding to the eerie and unsettling atmosphere.
It’s worth noting that many of the ghost stories associated with Poveglia are based on rumors and legends, and there is no scientific evidence to support the claims of these supernatural experiences. However, those who have had these experiences are convinced there is truth behind these rumors.
A Brighter Future for Poveglia Island?
The dark and twisted history of Poveglia island is certainly not for the faint of heart. After the asylum was closed, the island was left abandoned and largely untouched. Even today, Poveglia is private property and completely off-limits to the public as it is considered a safety hazard, though some have visited illegally to uncover truths behind its ghost stories. In recent years, there have been plans to develop the island into a tourist destination, but these plans have been met with resistance from conservationists and local residents.
Though its past was filled with so much cruelty, some hope for a brighter future for this island. With any luck, perhaps some improvements can be made to make the island visitable again. That is, if the ghosts will allow it.
Top image: A ghost island, representational. Source: Bernadett / Adobe Stock
By Lex Leigh
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