Food Travel > Travelling Tips > Undiscovered Places: Poveglia Date posted: October 22, 2013

Undiscovered Places:
Poveglia

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Swide takes you to the Undiscovered Places in Italy. Today we visit from afar Poveglia, an Island in the Venetian Lagoon with a mysterious history which claims it to be one of the most haunted places in Italy.

Swide takes you on a journey though the Bel Paese in search of the best Undiscovered Places in Italy. Villages, beaches, places known to only a few or to locals: a journey through the most beautiful and hidden places in Italy, a journey through the memories of those who have lived in or loved these places.

With an MA in Renaissance Venetian history its not much of a wonder that today, as Halloween gets closer I want to talk to you about the small island of Poveglia, which is located between the Lido and Venice in the Venetian Lagoon, and which thanks to its macabre history is considered one of the most haunted places in Italy.

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The island has a history which well predates the period I studied, thus making it one of the earliest legendary locations of the Venetian Lagoon. The island is first references in 421 AD, when people from Padua and Este fled there to escape the barbarian invasions. In the 9th century, the island became increasingly populated and earned Podestà status. Yet, it is not its earliest inhabitants which cause the island to be a hub of paranormal activities.

Today, Poveglia is closed to tourists, and can be viewed from special vaporetto tours, thus being known as the forbidden island.

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The island is situated in a point of advantage in the Lagoon, and therefore was an important first defence for Venetian. Following the war of Chioggia in 1379 between the Serenissima and Genoa, in which Povelia proved a most important advantage, the government decided to move the islanders to another island, the Giudecca, and fortified the island with a building called the Octagon. With this decision, the history of the small island took a turn for the worse, and for the scarier. According to legend, a healer, or witch, as many believed her to be, who traced her descent straight from the Paduan refugees who first inhabited the island in the 5th century cursed the island, her ancestral home, willing it never to be inhabited again.

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In the 16th century the Camadolese monks refused to settle in the fortification, and the island continued to be unhabited for another 100 years. The state then offered the descendants of the original islanders to move back and to rebuild their homes, yet they refused, perhaps remembering the curse placed upon those who were to live on Povelia 200 years before. But what other reasons were there which scared away everyone who was offered to settle there? Povelia was used as a mass burial ground during the Black Death and other bouts of plague in the following decades.

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The history of the island took another turn for the worse when in 1777 the Public Health office transformed into a check point for all the ships entering the Lagoon, and when a ship was found to carry plague, the people aboard were held in confinement on Poveglia. The island then became officially the Lazzaretto of the island under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Church which had been on the island for centuries was destroyed and the bell tower was converted into a lighthouse. These razing of the last testaments of its inhabited past marked the grim future of the island.

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In the 20th century the island remained a quarantine station and then, the Octagon was transformed into a hospital for the mentally ill. In the 60s when mental institutions were closes in Italy, it once again became uninhabited. It is said, than while the island housed a mental institution, a doctor there butchered and tortured patients. Legend has it that when he went finally mad himself he plunged to his death from a window yet his body was never discovered.

Through its recorded history it is believed that at least 160,000 thousand people died on Poveglia, confirming its status as one of the places with the highest density of mortality per square meter.

Legends surround the island of hauntings by the crazed butcher doctor, by the plague victims and the war victims as well as the descendants of the original inhabitants who where forced out of the island.

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