Location: Poveglia Island, 3 miles South of Venice Map
Area: 7.25 acres
Buildings: 11 structures
Closed (technically): due to poor state of buildings
Poveglia Island is a small island situated just 3 miles South of Venice in the Venetian Lagoon in Italy. Poveglia Island consists of two parts divided by a canal that has a single bridge over it. This abandoned plot of land is off limits to the tourists due to the condition of the buildings that are falling apart, but it does not mean people don't find ways to get to the island. Its main attraction is the remains of the mental institution that were opened in 1922 and closed in 1968. Many reports of paranormal activity have surfaced that keep the fame of Poveglia Island as one of the most haunted places in Italy alive and persistent. Several reality shows were filmed at this location including Ghost Adventures, Scariest Places on Earth and many more. Hospital that contains about 11 buildings on its grounds is considered to be one of the most haunted places.
Why is Poveglia Island off limits?
Currently there is reconstruction project going on the grounds of Poveglia Island by the Italian government. Dilapidated buildings are secured and reconstructed to restore to its previous significance. Additionally attempts are being undertaken to secure beaches of the island from further erosion into the sea. Hopefully it will be open soon for legal visits by tourists.
In ancient times it was called Popilia, probably due to its
vegetation (from the Latin populus "poplar") or in relation to the
nearby Via Popilia-Annia, built by the Roman consul Publio Popilio
Lenate. In ancient sixteenth-century maps, the island also appears in
the form Poveggia.
Following the Lombard invasion of the sixth century and the destruction of the inland cities (in particular Padua and Este), it became one of the resettlement centers for populations fleeing towards the coasts. Becoming a village and seat of a castle, the center effectively contributed, between 809 and 810, to the resistance of Metamauco, the ancient capital of the duchy of Venice, besieged by the Franks. The inhabitants of Popilia, for their active part in the defense against the Frankish invasion, received a series of privileges, such as exemption from taxes, from military service and from rowing in the galleys.
In 864 the families of the 200 faithful servants of Pietro Tradonico settled here who, following the revolts that arose from the killer of the doge, had obtained here from the successor Orso I Partecipazio the concession of lands and valleys, with the obligation of an annual census and an act of homage to be performed on the second day of Easter, and the right to have a ducal castaldo as governor, supported by 27 local councillors.
Poveglia was a thriving centre, both economically and demographically. The local families (Musso, Boyso, Barbalongolo etc.) were engaged in fishing and salting, with interests also in Chioggia and Pellestrina. At the ecclesiastical level, it was headed by the parish church of San Vitale. The prosperity of the center is also testified by the establishment, during the dogeship of Bartolomeo Gradenigo, of a podestà, whose jurisdiction also extended over the nearby Malamocco and Pellestrina.
The decline of Poveglia coincided with the war of Chioggia, when it was decided to evacuate the population to Venice. Despite the construction of a fortification (Poveglia octagon), the island was still occupied by the Genoese admiral Pietro Doria, who from here bombarded the monastery of Santo Spirito. At the end of the conflict Poveglia was completely devastated and its inhabitants, originally several hundred, were reduced to a few dozen.
The povegliotti, however, maintained their identity for centuries, even though they now resided in Venice. Traditionally employed in fishing, they were among the few who were also able to market their products as fish traders. Together with those of Nicolotti and Arsenalotti, their representative had the privilege of sitting on the Bucintoro next to the doge during the Sensa party. They also had their own confraternity (named, not surprisingly, after San Vitale) based in the church of San Trovaso and then in that of Sant'Agnese, in whose parish most of the Povegliottis were concentrated.
The republic took an interest in the recovery of the island several times, offering it now to the Camaldolese (1527), now to the same Povegliotti (1661), but always obtained refusals. Only later was it decided to exploit its proximity to the port of Malamocco (at the time the only access to the lagoon suitable for large ships), using it as a station for the storage and parking of boats and for the storage of on-board equipment. Subsequently, its functions were increasingly oriented towards health purposes: assigned to the Health Magistrate, from 1782 its structures served for the control of men and goods and, if necessary, as a hospital (the islands of Lazzaretto Vecchio and Lazzaretto Nuovo were become inadequate). On two occasions, in 1793 and 1798, it hosted the crews of two boats sick with the plague (they were probably the last manifestations of the disease in Venice).
A marble plaque, found on the west coast, bears the following wording: "ne fodias vita functi contagion requescunt MDCCXCIII", i.e. "do not dig (disturb) the dead from contagion alive, they rest 1793".
It maintained the functions of a maritime quarantine station throughout the nineteenth century and until after the Second World War. In the last period the buildings were partly used as a geriatric convalescent home, but from 1968 this use too was abandoned and the island was handed over to the State.
For a time, its lands were assigned to a farmer, while the buildings gradually fell into disrepair. Since then the island has been the subject of various recovery projects, which however have never been implemented.
In 1997 the Student and Youth Tourist Center presented a plan for the construction of a youth hostel; in 1999, consequently, the Ministry of the Treasury excluded Poveglia from the assets to be sold to private individuals and returned it to the state so that it could be granted to the CTS, but the initiative did not go through.
Since 2003, the island has been managed, like others, by Arsenale di Venezia spa, jointly owned by the Municipality of Venice and the Agenzia del Demanio. In 2013, together with San Giacomo in Paludo, Poveglia was put up for sale to be recovered for tourism purposes; on 6 March 2014, the State Property Agency included the island in a list of assets in a "public invitation to offer", i.e. through an auction subject to the assessment of the economic convenience of selling by a Commission set up for this purpose.
In 2009, following the many paranormal legends, the crew of Zak Bagans, of the Ghost Adventures program, made an investigation on the island, where an alleged evil spirit would have possessed Zak for a few minutes. This shook Zak so much that he decided to get a tattoo behind his back, claiming that it was one of the most terrifying experiences of his life.
In April 2014, a non-profit association was born, Poveglia - Poveglia per tutti, with the aim of participating in the tender of the State property to win possession of the island for 99 years and allow its public use. On 13 May 2014, the day of the public invitation to bid for Poveglia del Demanio, Luigi Brugnaro, patron of Umana, made the best offer of 513,000 euros. However, the State Property Commission deemed the offer incongruous and the entrepreneur consequently opposed this decision by announcing his appeal to the TAR.
421 - The island was a refuge for people who fled from Padua and Este
during the barbarian invasions.
809 - Following the invasion of Pepin, the inhabitants fled to the Rialtine islands.
864 - Doge Orso Partecipazio, to put down the revolt of the servants of the murdered Doge Pietro Tradonico, allowed them to live on the island of Poveglia and gave the community many privileges. In the following centuries the island prospered both economically and demographically so much that it was ruled first by a tribune, then by a ducal steward and finally by a Podestà.
1379 - During the war of Chioggia, the fort called Ottagono was built to defend the island and is still visible today; for security reasons the inhabitants were transferred to the Giudecca.
1527 - The Magistrato alle Ragioni Vecchie, seeing the abandonment of the place and the buildings following the war of Chioggia, offered it to the Camaldolese to build a convent, but they refused.
1661 - It was proposed to the Povegliani to rebuild the buildings but they also refused.
1777 - It passed under the jurisdiction of the Health Magistrate, and became a transit and health control station for the crews of vessels and for the expurgation of goods.
1793/1799 - Due to a plague epidemic that broke out on two ships, the island was temporarily used as a hospital.
1805/1814 - It was definitively used as a hospital. Following the Napoleonic edict, the church dedicated to San Vitale was demolished and the adjacent bell tower was used as a lighthouse. - Start
20th century - The island was equipped as a maritime station for the quarantine of crews and passengers coming from ports where cases of epidemics had occurred. In the following years, the health complex was converted into a convalescent home for the rest home.
1968 - This last use was abandoned and after a brief period of abandonment the island was given in concession to a farmer who cultivates the uncovered spaces. The buildings, due to the total lack of maintenance, are rapidly falling into disrepair.
1997 - The CTS draws up a project for the island which envisages the construction of a complex for youth accommodation and cultural enjoyment.
1999 - The Ministry of the Treasury excludes Poveglia from the list of assets to be put up for sale and hands it back to the State so that it can be granted to the CTS. In this context, the Consorzio Venezia Nuova will have to proceed with the renewal of the margins. I visit.
Of the ancient parish church of San Vitale only the bell tower
remains, spared from the Napoleonic suppressions because it was used
as a lighthouse. The tower clock, dating back to 1745 is the work of
The church of Poveglia was a place of worship of certain importance as there was preserved a crucifix in plaster and stucco of the fifteenth century considered miraculous; it is found today in the parish church of Malamocco. However, the paintings representing Christ led to Calvary, by Giulia Lama, and the Miracle of the Crucifix by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta have been lost.
Several sources indicate in Poveglia island the place where, in 1510, the famous painter Giorgione was buried, but there is no certainty. Another source indicates, for example, the island of the Lazzaretto Nuovo as a burial site.
From the ghosts of the dead of the plague to that of the mad
doctor who threw himself from the bell tower
It is said of thousands of plague victims who lost their lives in this place, who lie buried haphazardly in huge mass graves and who would still infest it today, without being able to find peace.
It tells of a crazy doctor who carried out terrible experiments on children housed in an orphanage, innocent victims of a madness that ended only with suicide, when the man threw himself from the top of the bell tower of the small church that still stands out among the trees .
To support these hypotheses, the presence of the indication of a psychiatric ward, still today painted on the facade of a crumbling building, as well as that of strange equipment - largely covered with rust and dust - and that general sense of unease and mystery that brings with it every ruined place whose history is not known.
Young gostbusters on the run
One summer a few years ago, five twenty-year-old Americans paid the price who, well determined to spend a night hunting for ghosts, found nothing better than to call for help to passing boats in the middle of the night, terrified, stating that the place was haunted from evil spirits and otherworldly presences.
The curious thing is that most Venetians… “discovered” it then, thanks to them.
Up to that moment, in fact, no Venetian legend, ancient or modern, had ever referred to this sinister aspect of the island.
Poveglia: a community dear to the doges and an island in vogue until the mid-1300s
But what is the truth? The first of the acclaimed truths is that Poveglia is in a total state of abandonment: crumbling dormitories, large kitchens in ruins, stairs and collapsed walls.
Yet the island has a long and sumptuous history, which begins almost with the history of Venice and is accompanied for a long time with the destinies of the Serenissima: the Poveglianense community was very dear to the doges.
It had special privileges and was flourishing until almost the entire fourteenth century.
After the middle of that century the island was abandoned and in the fifteenth century it remained substantially uninhabited.
An alternating fate of abandonment and reuse followed until the eighteenth century, when it became a sanatorium.
The arrival of the plague
1793 marked a turning point. That year, a small Greek ship arrived in Venice whose sailors complained of symptoms that were sadly known in the city: they had the plague and were taken to Poveglia.
There were about thirty of them, and twelve of them died and were buried on the island.
Six years later (it was 1799 and the Republic was now a thing of the past), another eight sailors – this time from a Spanish ship – lost their lives and were buried in Poveglia, again due to the plague.
Twenty people who died at the end of the eighteenth century and who are very far from the figures that the contemporary narrative would have us believe: not twenty thousand, not two hundred thousand. Twenty people in all.
There are also images of mass graves circulating on the net which have nothing to do with Poveglia but which concern the nearby Lazzaretto Vecchio (on which, incidentally, there is no "black" legend).
Three hospitals for Venice
The Venetians invented the Lazzaretti and the quarantine.
The Old Lazzaretto was established in 1423, followed by the New one in 1468 and finally by Poveglia, who established the “Novissimo” Lazzaretto in 1793.
Today of all this remains only a half-buried stone hidden among the vegetation which reads: "Ne fodias", do not dig, which can also be interpreted as "do not disturb".
“The living dead from contagion – continues the inscription – rest here”.
The date is that of 1793, precisely.
These are mass burials of the victims of several waves of plagues on Poveglia Island. This is only a fraction of all the bodies that were buried here. Many more were burned or tossed in similar holes around the Poveglia Island. Local fisherman avoid the area around the islands. Due to soil erosion over the course of centuries many of the former graves were washed away. People's bones were commonly found in the fish nets that were thrown here. So locals stopped fishing here altogether.