Poveglia was constructed on a permanent fortification built by the Venetian government and from 1793-1814 was used as a plague quarantine station, or “lazaretto”—one of many in the Venetian lagoon.
The tiny island is said to have hosted over 160,000 infected souls living out their final days and hours there—so many that there are whispers that 50 percent of the soil consists of human remains. Recently, mass graves have been found on the nearby islands of Lazaretto Nuovo and Lazzaretto Vecchio containing the remains of thousands of plague victims. Poveglia has yet to be fully investigated.
Finding the location of Poveglia to be small and easily missed, Napoleon also used the island for a darker purpose, storing weapons there. The location was discovered, and many small battles took place as the island claimed even more lives.
In 1922, a mental hospital was opened on Poveglia. Local legend says that one doctor at the hospital tortured and killed many of his patients, butchering them horribly, only to later die by falling from, or possibly being thrown off of, its bell tower. The hospital closed in 1968, and the ruins are still there, slowly being reclaimed by greenery. While it is professed to be a former retirement home, evidence that it housed mental patients is still evident.
With a past like this, it’s not surprising that Poveglia is believed to be haunted, attracting the attention of ghost hunters and paranormal investigators.
Poveglia remains for now strictly off-limits to visitors.
In 2014, the New York Daily News reported that due to a rapidly declining economy, Italy was placing the island and four other pieces of prime real estate up for auction, causing a public outcry. The fate of the island is still in limbo as of 2018.
In 2016, five people from Colorado were rescued by Italian firefighters after they decided to spend the night on the famous haunted island of Poveglia, the location of the upcoming movie The Plague Doctor. They reached the island through a water taxi and decided to stay for the night, but as soon the darkness took over a presence started to haunt them, making them scream for help. A sailboat in the area overheard them and called the Italian authorities that came to their rescue.
The film, a dark psychological thriller set in Venice, is inspired by stories and legends tied in with the historical figure of the Plague Doctor, the mysterious Venetian Mask, and the ancient island of the Venetian Lagoon, well known for its gruesome events. The Italian crew already filmed a few sequences in the abandoned hospital that was built on the island.
Know Before You Go
Be aware that visiting the island is illegal. There are no public tours available to go see the island.