Poveglia is a small island located between Venice and Lido in the Venetian Lagoon, northern Italy. A small canal divides the island into two parts.
The island is first mentioned in chronicles of 421, when people from Padua and Este fled there to escape the barbarian invasions. In the 9th century the island’s population began to grow, and in the following centuries its importance grew steadily, until it was governed by a dedicated Podestà. In 1379 Venice came under attack from the Genoan fleet; the people of Poveglia were moved to the Giudecca.
The island remained uninhabited in the subsequent centuries; in 1527 the doge offered the island to the Camaldolese monks, who refused the offer. From 1645 on, the Venetian government built five octagonal forts to protect and control the entrances to the lagoon. The Poveglia octagon is one of four that still survive.
In 1776 the island came under the jurisdiction of the Magistrato alla Sanità (Public Health Office), and became a check point for all goods and people coming to and going from Venice by ship. In 1793, there were several cases of the plague on two ships, and consequently the island was transformed into a temporary confinement station for the ill; this role became permanent in 1805, under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, who also had the old church of San Vitale destroyed; the old bell tower was converted into a lighthouse. The lazzaretto was closed in 1814.
In the 20th century the island was again used as a quarantine station, but in 1922, the existing buildings were converted into an asylum for the mentally ill and for long-term care. This went on until 1968, when the hospital was closed, and the island, after being shortly used for agriculture, was completely abandoned.
In 2014, the Italian state announced that it would auction a 99-year lease of Poveglia — which would remain state property — in the following month to raise revenue, hoping that the buyer would redevelop the hospital into a luxury hotel.
The island contains one or more plague pits. Some estimates suggest that 100,000 people died on the island over the centuries.
Some time after the island had become a quarantine station for ships arriving at Venice in the 18th century, a plague was discovered on two ships. The island was sealed off and used to host people with infectious diseases, leading to legends of terminally ill Venetians waiting to die before their ghosts returned to haunt the island.
In 1922, the island became home to a mental hospital where a doctor allegedly experimented on patients with crude lobotomies. He later threw himself from the hospital tower after claiming he’d been driven mad by ghosts. The island has been featured on the paranormal shows Ghost Adventures and Scariest Places on Earth.