Sunday, December 4, 2011

Haunted Places: Poveglia Island


Poveglia Island - it is a place you can’t visit; it isn’t open to tourists or the public, nobody local wants to take you,  In the rare event that people have been to the island, most have come away wishing they hadn’t tried, except for some paranormal investigators.  It is considered one of the most haunted places on the planet, and its history explains why.

Situated between Venice and the Lido area in northern Italy, Poveglia Island looks like an innocuous place: green, wooded, with a large building to one side. It seems a generally tidy, peaceful place, but it has a past that makes one shudder. 

It started out well enough; in the year 421, people from the surrounding Padua and Este fled to the island to escape barbaric invasions that were occurring in Italy.  These people were the first inhabitants of Poveglia and by the 9th century, the island became fully populated and stayed that way for many years, until Venice came under attack from the Genoan fleet in 1379 and the people were moved off the island, leaving it abandoned.

It remained uninhabited for centuries and it began to promote an ominous feeling in local people. It is said that in the year 1527, the Chief Magistrate of Venice and Genoa offered the island to the Camaldolese monks, but they turned down the offer.  Then, in 1661 the descendants of the original inhabitants of Poveglia were given the chance to rebuild their village on the island, but they also flatly refused.

This however, isn’t the only history of the Island; there is a much more sinister series of events related to the plague, or ‘black death’. Dating right back from Roman times, Poveglia Island was used to contain thousands of plague victims, and then again during the times when the disease spread through Europe.  It was considered an efficient way of keeping the infected people physically separated from the healthy. 

At first it was just the dead bodies that were taken there for burning in huge pits, but as the plague spread, living people infected with the disease were taken, dumped and left to die mixed in with the bodies of the dead. Even today, fishermen have reported catching human bones in their nets - they avoid the island whenever possible.

All seemed quiet until the 1700s when the island was under the control of the public health office and became a useful checkpoint for ships, goods and people visiting Venice until two ships arrived with their crew infected

with the plague. At this point, the large, imposing buildings seen today were built and the island was again used to confine people who were sick. Those who have visited the island say that it is still possible to read the writing scratched onto the walls of the building by people who were confined there. Over 160,000 people have died on Poveglia Island during its history.

The disturbing legacy of Poveglia Island doesn’t stop there; we have more horrific records from much nearer today. In 1922, the island and it’s buildings were used as a mental hospital -  people give accounts that the doctor in charge supposedly tortured and killed many of his patients there, becoming mad himself. Legend has it that he either jumped or was thrown to his death from the bell tower, and according to that same legend, he survived the fall, but was 'strangled by a mist that came up from the ground'.

There are plans that the Italian government may open up Poveglia Island to the public, but it will be interesting how many people will actually visit, and what the opinion of the local people will be. A place with as much evil history and recorded haunting will certainly attract many people, but how many will leave wishing they hadn’t gone in the first place?


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