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Poveglia: The Island of the Dead

The island known by Venetians as the place of no return.

(Image by author 1997)

Welcome to the island of no return. The place is known as Poveglia, and to local Venetians, many believe that the island is almost a living, breathing, evil entity. While the island is beautiful by day, many are fearful to enter at night.

About five miles of the coast of Italy is an island that sits much like Alcatraz. More than 100,000 people have perished here. With that many deaths, the souls have nowhere to be free but here.

As you walk through much of the trails, it seems as if the trees are consuming your world. For whatever reason, it’s as if the earth wants to consume you and take you with it. Many Venetians are fearful of speaking about such a place. The atmosphere is very much suffocating, and at times you feel as if you’re unwanted.

The Peste Nera, or “Black Death consumed much of Europe during the 13th century. More than one third of Venice’s population was decimated by it. Within five days, many victims were dead. The bodies began to pile up in the streets. The swollen decay of the dying would be bricked up within their own homes. Anyone who tried to escape would be murdered on the spot.

Victims would be buried in graves called Plague Pits. So many victims began to pile up, that many were hauled into pits, some while still alive. They would then be burned. Since there were so many victims, the solution was to bring the victims to the island of Poveglia.

People were taking against their will. Some alive, some dead. The living were amongst the dead, and even if they were healthy, one would soon die. Because of the piles of dead, many Venetians believed that the dead reached all the way to hell.

Without proper burials, the spirits of these lost souls still linger. Many Venetians are respectful of the dead, and will usually not step foot on this island. In fact, many refuse to go here. Even to ask a Venetian to take you to the island, they not only look at you as if you’re mad, but almost with curiosity. The waters surrounding the island still dredges up the bones of the dead by fishermen.

To make matters worse, a hospital was built on the island for the ill in 1922. The doctor of the hospital performed cruel experiments on the patients because they began to see the dead. The doctor was then pushed from the top of the bell tower by unseen hands. Going by at night, you can actually hear that bell tower toll, though not a single soul is on the creepy land of death.

To step foot on the island is to bring fear to your senses. You walk amongst ash, or what many believe to be human ash. You feel breaths upon your neck; feel your hair stand on end. And at times you often wonder if that’s really screaming that you hear. You also feel an impending danger, and a need to get off the island. At one point you see moving shadows that make you wonder, ”Did I just see that? I sure enough did, and now I need to change my soiled pants.” Needless to say, to go to that place takes immense cojones, and a reserve. You may not believe in ghosts, but there is something about the island that is unnerving and will make you believe in something.

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User Comments
  1. Rask Balavoine

    On March 9, 2009 at 7:23 am

    Creepy. My kind of island. I’ll check it out next time I’m in Venice. Good atricle

  2. Tarra Buluran

    On March 9, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Very interesting article!

  3. Gone.

    On March 9, 2009 at 9:13 am

    My curiosity would get the better of me and I’d have to check it out! Another intriguing piece, Arizona!

  4. s hayes

    On March 9, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Fantastic article – gave me goosebumps reading it x

  5. papaleng

    On March 9, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    a very interesting article and a nice place to visit,

  6. vim3

    On March 10, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Scary! Really spooky. Do people live there?

  7. burnone

    On March 12, 2009 at 3:09 am

    i’m sure many of you would want to visit Poveglia to check out the hype…but it is closed to the public & tourists…even locals won’t step foot on it! And to answer that last person’s question…Hell No no one lives on that messed up island! I read somewhere that some family tried to buy the island to build a house and live there. When they first took a trip to the island to check things out…something happened and they decided against buying it. They supposedly kept it quiet and didn’t say what happened that made them change their mind. All in all, I would not set foot on that land…

  8. burnone

    On March 12, 2009 at 3:12 am

    one last thing…I keep reading that the island is now used for farming grapes or cultivation… but if the island is that messed up, and the locals fear it that much…who goes in there to farm all this stuff?

  9. Lost in Arizona

    On March 12, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    To burnone, I haven’t been to Italy in nearly 12 years. If anyone is using that cursed island for a vineyard, it’s news to me. Although it would be rich in soil considering what it consists of, yuck.. When I did visit, it took quite a bit of cajoling ( as well as money), to get a fisherman to take us there. And even then he would not step foot on the place. It’s not a place one wants to stay at night, or live. It makes you feel ill, and unwanted.

  10. Patrick Bernauw

    On March 14, 2009 at 5:28 am

    This are the sort of creepy true tales I really love!

  11. Violet

    On March 24, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    It’s really sick that all of you want to see this island, this is a place of torture, and you want to just feel afraid, go watch a scary movie or something. But this is actual torture, hundreds of thousands of people suffered there. They will not show mercy when you show up there wanting to be scared for an hour or two.

  12. 3sk733virxb

    On April 25, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I was watching scariest places on earth with my cousin one day and this island was on that one episode. A family got to stay one night on there and after they came back they were all freaked. After watching that episode I couldn’t sleep for a very long time.

  13. 135si912indy

    On May 20, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    what the people did to those infected was cruel and those infected didnt deserve what happened to them i believe in ghosts and spirits of the dead and if you go to a place like poveglia you have to remember one thing ghosts hate the living and if you go there at night and scream because of the things happening around you the ghosts are going to get mad they make those noises to scare you off the island ghosts have their territories and if someone goes on their territory they will do whatever it takes to get them out

  14. Texas

    On May 20, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    I think what happened on the island builds everyones curiosity, especially when no tourists can visit there. I think that is what makes everyone want to see it even more. I love to learn about history and how different we live today than back then. Those people who were infected didnt have a choice of freedom like we do today. they didnt have people back then saying they would sue if someone bricked them into their homes. We live in a much different time and place than the people did then and I think that is what fascinates us to want to see it. I find it interesting that no Venetians step foot on that place. They have respect and know more about it than we do. I wish I could hear from someone who has first hand experience from the island.

  15. Bitter_Pills_Of_Fate

    On June 7, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Does anyone know the name of the doctor who did cruel experiments on the island?

  16. IrishEyes

    On June 9, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    I understand that Poveglia is a terrible place – but I must say that the idea of being able to see such a place first hand, to see and feel and know… That would be an invaluable experience. My father’s side of the family is from Sicily; maybe when I save up enough money to travel Europe I’ll be able to convince whatever family I have there to take me, if only for an hour or so.

  17. dennis

    On June 29, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    I am traveling to Venice this September and I am planning to find my way on to this Island. Any advice from anyone for me?

  18. Paul

    On July 3, 2009 at 7:41 am

    I’m studying into the Island of Poveglia and would really appreciate it if anyone could tell me any information regarding the hospital on the Island and the Doctor who worked there.

    Anyone with any information at all will be rewarded with a gold star :)

  19. Biscuits

    On July 5, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I was wondering if anyone knows if there are caretakers who see to the upkeep of the institution or is it slowly collapsing? If it were any level of condemned then the danger of death would give good reason to cordon off the island.

  20. Bisguided

    On July 5, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    As a response to the idea that the people who had been quarantined there were given unfair treatment, remember when it happened, the 13 or 14th century was a ridiculous time to be alive, the mortality rate of anyone was so low that being alive was good enough reason to believe in God because belief granted entrance into Heaven which would make living in such horrible conditions worthwhile (which today seems nutty). The way the citizens of Western cultures have it now would have seemed like Heaven to those people. Not one living member of western culture today would have been able to withstand an entire day of 13th century life (including me and I’m a construction worker who grew up on the farm). You can’t really blame them for handling things badly, they believed in witches and werewolves. Back then a belief in one God and “his holy son” would have meant you were LESS crazy. How would YOU have handled the situation?

    Apparently they did the very same thing back in Roman times too (which ironically would have been a better time to live than in the 13th century, actually I read that the Romans treated their plague sufferers much better, it may not have been as dire then)

  21. daniele

    On July 13, 2009 at 4:41 am

    I had been there a lot of times but only during the day…it’s very scareful at night….brrr

  22. rosalina

    On July 22, 2009 at 11:13 am

    i understand that it is beautiful in the day, id love to see sum of these ppl stay the night there. id love to go there sumtime. i love watching this stuff on syfy, id love to go there and stay a night or two.

  23. ladyd

    On July 22, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    First you have to understand the italians are both religious and superstitious so they don’t open the island because they don’t want to disturb the souls of those that have all ready been tortured. I feel that they need to make a huge cemetery for the bodies that were thrown into pits, anyone who has dealt with spirits knows that they are still on earth because they have unfinished business or they don’t realize they can pass on or don’t know how which can make them angy. I think proper burials would help a great deal. Other issues need to be dealt with as well. As for the show, it was stupid of them to go there at night but filming the show in the day wouldn’t be scary now would it?
    I would certainly be willing to help put the island to rest but i don’t think they will ever attempt to do that.
    I’ve heard rumors of them wanting to build a school, a hotel or plazas for tourist but lets face it, aside from the spirits, it would be a very expensive project, none of the buildings could be used because of mold, mildew, ash etc, the cleanup alone would have a huge price tag not to mention building safe places for people to stay or study. still, i would be willing to go if they aske for volunteers.

  24. courtney

    On July 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    i would soooo visit this island if i had the chance ! great artical & i am very interested to experience the thrill of this island.

  25. cassie

    On July 22, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    this island sounds scary i would never visit a place like this

  26. Ashley

    On July 22, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I just saw a tv show called the scariest places on earth and the wilsons i think they went to poveglia and they exprienced some of the most scariest things that by just watching that i wouldnt dare step foot on that island ill probably die if i were to ever go there!

  27. yalex

    On July 22, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    For me Poveglia is one of the most scariest places on earth just like on the show. Scariest places on earth,anyway I would never go there.Thats just my opinon!

  28. cbutterfly4eva

    On July 22, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    I think the evil comes from the souls of the tortured epople and they need to be put to rest

  29. peter fundora

    On July 30, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    let those poor souls rest in peace.we dont need to turn poveglia into a freak show.

  30. YoungandCurious

    On August 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I was just wondering if it is a possibilty to get someone to bring you to such a place. It would be a desire of mine to see this haunted island not out of ignorance but out of curiosity and for historical purposes. and pay respects to those who have parished.

  31. km

    On September 1, 2009 at 10:37 am

    look up poveglia on myspace. He has a story about his visit. He visited this island with friends and paid a nonitalian water taxi driver to take them. Most italians will not go there.

  32. GhostEnthusiast

    On September 13, 2009 at 9:51 am

    When I went to Venice in August 2006, I took our tour guide aside and asked him what he knew about the island of Poveglia and any lore of ghosts out there. He was a pretty resourceful, local guy who would’ve known about it, but said he’d didn’t really know much about it beyond the island just existing. So he asked one of the gondola guys about it, and the gondola guy said the island’s just used for storage and not much else.

  33. Nicci

    On September 19, 2009 at 5:44 am

    I spent 4 days in Venice trying to convince someone to take me out there to shoot the island (I’m a landscape and architecture photographer). I told the water taxi guys that they didn’t even have to take me all the way to the island just close enough to shoot the buildings and then different angles of the island.
    No joy. I didn’t have a huge amount of money to offer but my offer was respectable, but I couldn’t find a single taker. A few months later I returned to Venice and had just about convinced someone to take me over, and his grandmother came by overheard the discuss and threw a fit that I had even asked. I swear she was ready to drown me in the Grand Canal just for asking. I’m not giving up though one day someone will take me.

  34. Matt

    On November 10, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Oh noesies, not a spooooky island in italy!
    Pshh. Italians are pussies, and for gods sake it’s been how many hundreds of years since these people were tossed there?
    Also, to the person that was like “oh you’re all such meanies for not feeling bad for the infected people” …well, it’s idiotry like that that’s going to get you infected. Those people had PLAGUE, for gods sake. In my opinion, better sticking them on some a**hole island than letting them rot in the streets, thanks.
    And lastly, every single person that is afraid of an island is a moron. I’d stay there, I think it’d be really cool.

  35. nikolll

    On November 11, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    yeaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! TORTURE! AND DEATH itsly rocks my soxx

  36. nikolll

    On November 11, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    i wwant to buy Poveglia!


    On November 11, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Dr. Damyan Nikolovich, headmaster…………….the deranged dr of this island. poor people… god rest their souls any one who has to go thru the torture they did, leave it be!!!!!

  38. Greg

    On December 1, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    @Matt….you’re such a tough guy aren’t you?

    If the chance ever presents itself why not go over on Poveglia by yourself and spend the night amidst the ruins?

    I’m pretty much 100% sure you wouldn’t be so cocky and willing to call others ‘Pussies’ after your night there ;P

  39. CASSIE

    On January 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    i got chill bumps why i was reading this i also started crying i was so scared my mom passed out when she heard that me and my dad were going to this place……………………………

  40. Virginia King

    On January 22, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    This is on tv (travel ch) right now, had to look it up … you have to remember Italians have a very healthy respect for the dead and then there are the superstitions as well. My G-parents came from Italy and I have grown up w/this type of stuff all my life. This will be interesting to watch.

  41. SMacha

    On January 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    The Travel Channel had Ghost Adventures there and it was wild. Makes you wonder about the truth of what actually went on there. I love history and spirits. Can’t wait to just pass the island when I get a chance to travel to Italy.

  42. greg

    On January 25, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    this is awasom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  43. nickalos

    On January 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    this is awasome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  44. pkkm865

    On January 28, 2010 at 10:12 am

    i disagree with those who think everyones such a meanie for being intrigued by Poveglia. i agree with Matt to a large extent. their means of handling an epidemic was crude back then becuz…o i dunno…they lacked todays technology. i think people should go to the island and soak it in. if it scares the hell out of u then id say ur time was spent well. some of u obviously dont know all the history. prisoners who comitted horrible crimes were also executed there. r we meanies for not respecting those “dead” as well? i think not. they dont deserve our respect in life or death

  45. Father Mike Donohue

    On January 30, 2010 at 3:05 am

    I have a deep interest in spirits and ghosts being a Reverend. I would love to go to this island one day to communicate with the dead and hopefully help them to rest with Jesus. I would love to spend the night there and drop some sacramental LSD and run around all crazy like communicating with them spirits.

  46. Rusty ONhiall

    On February 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I spent 4 days and stayed for two nights on this island while filming a documentary that sadly never aired. It is one of the creepiest places I have ever visited and some of the experiences reported by members of the crew and things that I experienced remain to this day, a source of great interest to me.

    It must be noted however that places such as this sorting legend and myth from the truth becomes hard. Just a couple of things however. The building erected in 1922 was not a Mental Institution but a retirement home that cased operating in 1968 and the island used in 1576 to accommodate those hit by the plague was not Poveglia, but Lazzaretto Nuovo.

    It\’s a shame places such as this become prohibited area\’s because of damage the visitors can cause because this place would be one hell of a location for a hotel.

  47. Connie

    On February 23, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    What’s scary is the spelling and punctuation I see in many of these comments.

  48. Ninjalette

    On February 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    i’m a beliver when it comes to things like this

  49. Karen Larson

    On March 26, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I dont want to go there, but a detailed history of the Island from 1922 when the evil doctor started his practice there and just what exactly what inhumane things he did to the mentally ill. I am doing a paper on early mental institutions and how the mentally ill were tortured in the name of medicine and the possible paranormal residue.

  50. tmnt-sisterturtle1234

    On April 4, 2010 at 12:04 am

    yo, Greg, i like your style!

  51. GA FAN.

    On May 16, 2010 at 1:44 pm


  52. stephanie

    On June 12, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    to answer a couple questions that are on here..
    they do have anyone upkeeping the island, they tried to redo a building after the mental institute was abandoned and it still has the scaffolding on the building.
    also, the family that tried to buy it as a vacation home left. their daughter had to go to the hospital because something ripped open her face. she ended up having to get 20 stitches.
    oh the doctors name was Dr. Damyan Nikolovich. (i think someone said that but..)
    you aren’t allowed to go on the island, but people sneak on it sometimes. they have people patrolling, most won’t go near it though.
    thats all the questions i saw :)

  53. willraj

    On July 27, 2010 at 11:53 am

    it is not that scary

  54. Joe

    On September 24, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    I love Poveglia, I love reading about it. Watching shows about it. Learning about it. Ive never experienced anything supernatural, but am eager to. I want to visit soon.

  55. Michelle

    On October 11, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Poland turned Auschwitz-Birkenau into a museum and area of rememberance. There was human suffering, torture and death that went on for years there, so why not do the same with Proveglia?

  56. mooncraft

    On October 17, 2010 at 9:13 am

    nice info!

  57. Katherine

    On January 2, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    To Paul of July 3, 2009 at 7:41 am,

    The doctor’s name was Crisco (sp?)

  58. samule

    On February 16, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I have been reading a report for this for a very long time now, and i think its a sad island, but I would like to see it during the day, and the smaller island connected, it said to be ‘made from human ashes’ Woo! What a thrill, would love to see it during the day, maybe an hour at night? :P I’m definitly sorry for the people who had died here. Let them be a peace?

  59. Brett

    On March 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Was on Poveglia last week. It is a very interesting place. The northern section (ash mound) of the island is very overgrown and does\’nt look like it has been used for anything for years.

  60. Brett

    On March 10, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Was on Poveglia last week. It is a very interesting place. The northern section (ash mound) of the island is very overgrown and does’nt look like it has been used for anything for years.

  61. BellaDonna

    On March 13, 2011 at 3:02 am

    To anyone who has visited Poveglia and posts here in the future: how did you get onto the island? Did you talk to Italian officials and arrange it, or simply pay someone to drive you there in a boat? I have a deep interest in the supernatural and would like to visit the island (during the day) and just wonder how you went about it.

  62. Jazzbrando

    On April 6, 2011 at 1:06 am

    Search for “Ghost Adventures Poveglia” on youtube…. It’s really interesting… At one point one of the investigators becomes possessed and almost kills his camera man…

  63. Saiipancake

    On April 19, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Im not the only one thinking that we should pay our respects to these spirits, if you do visit the island, give them offerings, flowers, fruits, food, money, burn some candles and incense and pray for them. You don’t have to believe in god, I don’t, but I still would pray that they carry on,that they get to leave and become new life, if that makes sense.

  64. Megahn

    On May 25, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Does anyone have the dates of when they started dropping the Plague victims off or when that doctor (I think his name was Priesto) killed himself? I’m writing a report for school and it’d be great info for it. Thanks!

    p.s.- For those of you who think Poveglia is a place to visit, kindly reconsider. The buildings are unsafe and it will probably leave you regreting saying the things you’ve said.

  65. Lost in Arizona

    On May 26, 2011 at 12:58 am

    Hey Meghan, they started to use the island for plague victims during the 1200’s, though the history of the island goes all the way back to 420 A.D. As far as the doctor is concerned, it’s more of a folklore tale. It is said that he hung himself after seeing his patients in the bell tower, but managed to survive the fall. However, he was then killed by a black mist, which was one of his victims. Another legend says that the remaining patients on the island walled his body inside the walls of the bell tower. There is a bell tower on the island, and the buildings on the island are all in various states of decomposition. Some of the buildings are dangerous to even be walking around in. There’s one area that has a bridge you can walk over (on the plague field), and when you do, it’s just the weirdest feeling.

  66. Saito

    On June 20, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    There is a Japanese term called Onryo. An Onryo is a ghost that is left behind after a person dies that has such intense emotions that it can’t pass on. Usually victims of abuse, murder, torture and things like that become Onryo. Since there were many people who were taken to Poveglia were still alive and thrown into the plague pits, they’re going to be quite angry and will take out that anger on anyone who happens to visit the island.

    ONE Onryo is enough to raise havoc. Imagine the havoc that 160,00 of them will cause!

    So be careful. Some may tag along with you when you leave the island and they’re not easy to banish.

  67. Lia

    On June 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Wow echt scary !
    Ich möcht da echt gerne hin DIE GEISTER SEHEN !

  68. B

    On August 14, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation that surrounds Poveglia and fuels the legend. I was there this winter and this is what I can tell you from my first hand experience.

    -Venetians are not afraid of the Island, to them its just an abandoned island
    -It was not a mental hospital but a convalescent home . Yes, one section of the building has bars on it. It was the maintenance section where the laundry and kitchen was,
    - The Romans used Poveglia as a Lazaretto for the dead during the plague.During the plague in the 13th century Lazaretto Nuovo was used instead not Poveglia.
    -The island is publicly owned, you can visit the island but not enter the buildingsbecause they are condemned.Boats will take you there for about $150 hr USD. You can do it on the internet.The reason they dont want to go is there is nothing there but an abandonded island.
    -Fisherman fish in the area , in lots of photos you can see their nets being stored on the island
    - Police boats do not patrol the island, the island is in the middle of nowhere
    - Crossing the bridge onto the ash mound was unique. I was able to stick my hand about 8-10 ” into the ground and pulled out a small bone.I do not know if it was human or not but I took a picture of it and returned it to its resting place.The ash mound is overgrown
    - When you tell Venetians that Poveglia is haunted THATS when they look at you funny.I asked Venetians from all walks of life when I was there and nobody knows the American Version of Poveglia. So is it the worlds most haunted spot or the worlds greatest urban legend?I love a great ghost story but I love knowing the truth even more.

  69. Selina

    On February 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I heard about this island on Ghost Adventures. That place is like a living Hell there. Even when Zak, lead investigator, was possessed by whatever evil, cold-hearted entity lingers on Poveglia. Just thinking about the island gives me chills.

  70. Nikolas

    On August 3, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I have a question
    Can i go to poveglia with some friends or police will stop me and ask me for licence to go on the island i really need to go there plz answear


    On March 6, 2013 at 11:57 am

    think about it the place is worth the punishment just so you can see the thrills but if a had to chose FUCK that i wouldent ever goooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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