Environment

Poveglia: Italy's Plague Island

Now abandoned, this island was long used to quarantine the diseased of Venice, many of whom were supposedly cruelly experimented upon.

5. Location and Early History

It is often not difficult to understand why certain places in the world earn the reputation of being gruesome and gory with stories of hauntings and curses strongly associated with their long history. The small and lonesome Poveglia Island, located on the Venetian lagoon in northern Italy between the Italian city of Venice and the 11 kilometer-long sandbar of Lido will definitely give you the creeps once you read its complete history. The Poveglia Island was first inhabited as early as 421 AD when fearing the violent barbarians who had invaded mainland Italy, the people of Padua and Este took shelter in the Poveglia Island. Fighting and skirmishes between the people and barbarians were known to take place for some time until, by the 9th Century, the population on the island started steadily growing and the island experienced one of the most peaceful times in its history. In 1379, however, when Venice faced attacks from the Genoan fleets, the island’s inhabitants were asked to leave if they desired to save themselves. They were then relocated to Giudecca. The island now became a battling ground which was used by the Venetians to stop the Genoan invasion. Several octagonal forts were built by the Venetian government on the island to guard the entrance to the lagoon, one of which survives to this date.

4. Quarantine Role

After being uninhabited for several years, the Poveglia Island turned into a nightmare for the Venetian people during the Black Death period of European history. During this time, the deadly plague swept across all parts of Europe, decimating the European population by unimaginably large numbers. Italy too was affected by this disease and starting from 1403, the Italian government, famous for its strict sanitary laws, forced those exhibiting signs of the disease to one of the many quarantine islands, referred to as lazzarettos on the Venetian lagoon, including the Poveglia Island. Though in the initial years, this island acted only as a quarantine stop, in the later years, as the plague pandemic took its full form in Italy, thousands of Italians, exhibiting even the slightest of symptoms were forcibly separated from their homes and family and dumped on the Poveglia Island to die a long, painful and lonesome death. Bodies of plague victims were also burnt, buried or simply dumped on this island while there are also rumors that diseased individuals were also burnt alive. The Poveglia Island thus became a horror destination for the people of Italy where all who went never returned. The use of the island as a quarantine station continued till 1814. It is estimated that by this time more than 160,000 people died on this island and human ashes formed an important component of the soil at this place.

3. Hauntings, Cruel Experiments, and Media Portrayals

The dark and dreary past of the Poveglia Island was not limited to the days of the bubonic plague. In 1922, the remaining buildings on the island were restored and renovated to convert them into an asylum for the mentally ill. From the beginning days of the asylum, patients were heard to complain about ghastly sightings, wailing voices and other unnatural happenings but these reports were ignored as the laments of the insane inmates of the mental hospital. There is also a strange rumor that one of the doctors of this hospital performed cruel lobotomies on his unwilling patients in a bell tower of the hospital and the screams of these patients could be heard by the other patients of the hospital. It is also claimed that the doctor died under mysterious circumstances by falling down from the bell tower and his body was then walled up within the hospital walls. Though the hospital was closed in 1968, the buildings and wards of it remain intact to this date, a spine-chilling reminder of the mad doctor and his suffering patients.Many of those who set foot on the island claim to experience eerie feelings and episodes of hauntings. The TV show Ghost Adventures also shot an extremely creepy video of this place where the crew exhibited what they claimed to be clear signs of haunting of the island by the spirits of the dead. The island has also been featured on the paranormal series "Scariest Places on Earth".

2. Surviving Buildings

The Poveglia Island today is nearly completely uninhabited and also closed to tourists. The buildings that survive here include a hospital, an asylum, a boat shelter or cavana and several administrative and housing buildings meant for the staff. All these are currently in a non-functional state. The most notable feature of the island is its bell-tower which was built in the 12th Century as part of a church that was demolished in 1806.

1. Prospects for Future Development

After the asylum of the Poveglia Island closed down in 1968, the island was used for agricultural purposes for some time. Some people also tried to purchase the island but it is said that these people mysteriously backed out of their decisions when strange incidents adversely affected them, forcing them to give up their wish to own the island. However, time and again, the Italian Government had made attempts to sell off the island to private owners who might develop luxurious hotels here. Recently, in 2014, a wealthy Italian businessman claimed the island for himself at an auction held by the Italian Government to lease the island to interested parties. Now, the future development of the island is to be decided by the businessman who wishes to use the island for public use.

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