A quarantine station, a dumping ground for plague victims, more recently a mental hospital – the tiny island of Poveglia in the Venice Lagoon has served many unpleasant purposes over the years, but today it stands empty, a crumbling collection of abandoned buildings and weeds run riot just two miles from the glittering palaces of the Grand Canal.
Legends and rumors about Poveglia are nearly as pervasive as the weeds, and they read like a horror story:
- That so many people were burned and buried there during the black plague that the soil is 50% human ash
- That local fishermen give the island a wide berth for fear of netting the wave-polished bones of ancestors
- That the psychiatrist who ran the mental hospital was a butcher and torturer who went mad from guilt and threw himself from the island’s belltower, only to survive the fall and be strangled by a “ghostly mist” that emerged from the ground.
While upwards of three million people descend upon Venice and a few of the more touristy resort islands around it each year, virtually no one goes to Poveglia.
According to most travel guides, the island is “not visitable,” and the idea of flagging down a water taxi on the Grand Canal and asking for a ride to a far-flung island of abandoned buildings was laughable. (People have tried it; it doesn’t work.)
The exteriors of the island are actually pretty cheery by Riggs’ account. But despite this, it has a grisly history as a plague quarantine zone.
Work crews on nearby Lazaretto Vecchio were digging the foundation for a new museum when they came across one such grave pit, filled with the remains of more than 1,500 plague victims.
Archaeologists immediately set to work examining the grisly find, and discovered something even more shocking: a vampire.
[T]here was a brick shoved between its teeth, which it was believed would starve the vampire, better known in historical parlance as a shroud-eater.
Account by Ransom Riggs via mental_floss for the full story and a lot more awesome photos.