The competition for “world’s most haunted island” is pretty stiff. North Brother Island off the coast of New York City is a nightmare, but Poveglia Island might just have it beat.
The island, located between Venice and Lido, would at first seem to be a picturesque ruin. A bell tower dominates the small, flat island. Additional buildings, including a hospital, asylum, and prison, cover much of the available land.
Poveglia was first inhabited by refugees in the early 5th century. In the 14th century, it was seized by the Venetian navy and turned into a military installment.
Then the plague came.
The Black Death hit Italy–and all of Europe–in waves from the early 15th century as infected sailors brought it to their shores. Poveglia became a quarantine area for those ships, where anyone who showed symptoms of the plague would be forced to stay, along with their crew, for 40 days.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. The island became a dumping ground for the infected–or those who were thought to be infected. It’s estimated that about 160,000 people died there over the course of a century, many of them in the last gasp of the bubonic plague that happened around 1630.
Their bones now lie in massive plague pits. However, some estimates put that number much higher. In fact, the soil is about 50% human ash and bone fragments. It is said that charred bones still sometimes wash up on the shore from the bay.
So if you happen to know of an island where the ground beneath your feet is mostly human ash and mass graves, you’d leave it alone, right? Well, someone had the bright idea to turn the abandoned quarantine island of Poveglia into a mental asylum.
Because that has never, ever turned out badly.
In a story that sounds straight out of a horror film, a doctor there allegedly conducted horrifying experiments on the patients. Those experiments included crude lobotomies with no anesthetic. According to the Travel Channel, the doctor was eventually driven mad by the ghosts of the island and threw himself from the bell tower.
Incredibly, that still wasn’t enough to make the Italians abandon the island. It was converted into ramshackle housing for the displaced elderly during the 1950s. They gave the island up for good in 1975, however, and since then no one has lived there.
A developer wanted to turn the island into a tourist complex, including restaurants and a hotel, but nothing ever came of their plans. It’s illegal to set foot on the island now.
A handful of YouTubers and photojournalists have bribed their way onto the island. One of them was Ransom Riggs, the author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
You can check out his eerie photos of the abandoned facilities on his Tumblr. Just be warned that one of the photos is of an uncovered mass grave, a sad testament to the many thousands of people who died there–and who are rumored to haunt the island still.