From the Black Death to the devil’s mental hospital!

Author: Marcin Waincetel

Poveglia, an inconspicuous island located near Venice, has extremely spooky stories. Because centuries ago, victims of the plague – the Black Death, which decimated the population of Europe in waves, were buried there. Later, a psychiatric hospital was built on the site of the mass grave, where criminal experiments were carried out – both on the body and soul of patients.

Situated in the picturesque area of the Venetian lagoon – between Venice and Lido – the island is considered a peculiar habitat of terror. Though the source of the mystery is recorded in the deep past, Poveglia is still extremely notorious today. Italians, as a rule, try to avoid this place, which is why it is difficult for adventurous foreign tourists to get to the island of death.

The Haunting of the Black Death

Poveglia Island

The real horror came in the 14th century, when the plague raged in Italy for good. The epidemic, which began in Central Asia, most likely China, was spread through the Silk Road. Italian society became extremely painfully aware of the destructive power of the plague. One of the outbreaks of the disease was Venice. The famous carnival was to turn into an exceptionally macabre dance macabre, a dance of death to which everyone was invited – regardless of age, sex, wealth or origin.

The Venetian authorities, as well as representatives of the whole society, were paralyzed with fear. The ulcerated bodies of the unfortunate victims of the plague were a macabre picture. Decaying bowels, an overwhelming stench, and the risk of an aggravated plague forced us to take radical measures. The death toll was counted in tens, hundreds, then tens of thousands. The corpse, the habitat of terrifying bacteria, posed a real danger to the living. less of age, sex, wealth or origin. In the face of the hecatomb started in January 1348 and the biological extermination, it was decided that both the bodies of the victims and the sick, who most likely could not be healed, would be transported to a nearby island. Poveglia became a cemetery where infected people waited for their final verdict. Counting on help was futile. People touched by the Black Death resembled the living dead – on the bodies of the sick there were black or blue stains, heralding an inevitable end in torment.

The history of the Italian island is dark and extremely gloomy – because it also served the isolation of the sick several times. It also became the mass grave of the victims of at least three major epidemics. It appeared in the chronicles as early as the first decades of the 5th century, when people from Padua and Este, two cities in the Veneto region, fled from the barbarian hordes. But Poveglia was never meant to become a real and lasting refuge. It is true that the local population has been gradually increasing since the 9th century, but the island was still out of luck. Well, in 1397, when Venice became the target of an attack by the Genoa fleet, the community of Poveglia was transferred to neighboring Guiudecci . The Black Death, however, did not let itself be forgotten. Several centuries have passed since the plague, it would seem that the spooky place is no longer under the influence of a kind of curse from the darkness of the Middle Ages. But nothing could be more wrong.

Devilish psychiatric hospital

In 1793, after Poveglia had been converted into a harbor for exporters, cases of the plague began to appear again. The island became a temporary prison for the sick, the so-called Lazaretto. It functioned there until 1805, when in Napoleon’s reign the tabernacle was finally closed to the unfortunate. At least temporarily.

Poveglia remained a cemetery, a mass grave with anonymous victims of the Black Death until 1922. It was then that the Italian authorities decided to re-use the land that had not been used for years. The opening of a psychiatric hospital was supposed to give hope. However, it brought a real terror, which over the years played not only in the minds; the island enjoys a dismal fame to this day.

Patients locked in an isolated facility were to complain from the very beginning not only of poor conditions, but also of an aura of anxiety. Imagination, especially when it is fed with fear and fear, can awaken demons. The patients knew very well the history of the place where the hospital was built. After all, it was a kind of death waiting room, and also a morgue for the plague victims. According to various sources, from 100,000 to 150,000 people were buried there. But that wasn’t the most terrible thing. Relatively soon it was revealed that the asylum was actually a devilish psychiatric hospital, where not so much therapeutic treatments took place, but real torture. The experiments, such as the lobotomy *, which were extremely drastic, most likely carried out without any anesthesia, took place in the center’s bell tower. One of the doctors who carried out murderous experiments, unable to withstand the pressure, committed suicide here. The event received widespread publicity, and the hospital was finally closed in 1968.

However, a spooky story lives its life. Although Povegli cannot be officially visited at present – there is a ban on landing on the island – it arouses fascination. After all, it is a place of memory. An exceptionally spooky graveyard. Former laboratory where the body and soul of the unfortunate were experimented with. Poveglia, an inconspicuous island located near Venice, has extremely spooky stories.

Author: Marcin Waincetel – Graduate of Polish philology and cultural studies at the University of Wrocław.Art critic, Polish language teacher and journalist.

Operation tools…


Lobotomy, a neurosurgical procedure involving cutting the connections of the prefrontal cortex – one of the methods of patients suffering from schizophrenia and other severe diseases. The photo (opposite) shows the room and the tools to carry out such an operation … with the help of a leukotome inserted through holes drilled in the skull cap – that is, the destruction of the frontal lobes.

The dark history of this method shows that it is possible to mutilate a person in the name of the noblest reasons. /Admin/


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