Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Plague Island of Poveglia

The island of Poveglia is one of the many small islands located in the Venetian Lagoon between Venice and Lido. It is believed to be haunted by the ghosts of thousands of people that allegedly died here when the island served as a quarantine colony for plague victims at the time of Napoleon, and later as an asylum for the mentally ill. The psychiatrist who ran the hospital was a psychopath who butchered and tortured his patients, and later took his own life by throwing himself from the island's bell tower. After the hospital closed, the island lay abandoned for nearly fifty years. Fishermen avoided it for fear of netting human bones. Now a new project hopes to transform this long forgotten and feared island into a dream university campus.

Poveglia Island first entered into history books in 421. The first inhabitants were refugees fleeing from the barbaric Hun invaders lead by the fearful ‘Attila the Hun’ who ravaged the mainland. These people escaped to the island and made it their home. For the next several centuries, Poveglia had a peaceful history. The people extracted salt, fished and grew food. The island's population began to grow, and so did its importance until 1379, when Venice came under attack from the Genoan fleet. The people of Poveglia were hastily removed to a safer place.

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 on the island.

In 1776 the Public Health Office opened a check point on the island to inspect all goods and people coming to and going from Venice by ship. In 1793, when several cases of plague was discovered on two of the ships, the infected were forcibly disembarked and temporarily confined to the island. When plague in Europe took pandemic proportion, the second time since the Black Death of the 14th century, Poveglia Island became the dumping ground for the diseased and the infected. An estimated 160,000 people lived and died here. The rumor is that nearly half of the soil contains human remains.

(Note: Many online articles on Poveglia say that the island became quarantine quarters for plague victims during the Black Death that swept across Europe in the 14th century. This is incorrect. Poveglia had a healthy, living population at that time. The island’s morbid history didn’t begin until the late 18th century)

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