The year: roughly 1349.
The place: a small island in the Venetian Lagoon
The event: one of the deadliest pandemics in European history, the Black Death
Imagine you and your family live in Venice, Italy in the 14th century. Your socio-economic status doesn’t matter. The plague is an equal opportunity killer.
In the beginning, graves are dug for each body that succumbs to the ravages of what the plague can do. During this time, there were three plagues thought to be a part of the Black Death at one time or another. The bubonic plague was the most common, with symptoms including high fever, headaches, aching joints, nausea and vomiting. The lymphatic system was also affected, causing the glands in the neck, armpits and genital area to swell to large bulbous size. Black spots also appeared on the skin. As more people died at a quicker rate, those few who survived were hard pressed to dig graves fast enough and soon the bodies were collected and unceremoniously dumped into one big grave pit. When that wasn’t quick enough the bodies were simply piled up and most likely burnt.
Because of it’s situation far enough from the main city area of Venice, Poveglia was turned into one such dumping site. Bodies were ferried out and dumped, to be cremated at a later time. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in many cases people who were showing any signs of the plague were relocated to the island against their will. You see, despite being an awful way to die, the bubonic plague had a mortality rate of only 30-75%. So even if you were sick, you had a chance to survive and if you were moved to the island, you existed (one could hardly call it living) among the corpses of your family or neighbours or complete strangers. It’s believed that many of those people eventually went mad.
A more recent tale of this island’s sad history is that it was used as an asylum in the early 20th Century and a doctor on the island went insane and killed thousands.
My first introduction to this island had nothing to do with the paranormal. It made a brief appearance in Steve Berry’s The Venetian Betrayal when the main characters visit the remains of San Vitale. Imagine my surprise when I discovered later that the island is considered to be the most haunted places in Italy.
Today, the island is closed to the public. It is owned by the Italian government and used for agriculture. Even if it weren’t closed off, you’d be hard pressed to find a local willing to go there. They believe that the voices of the dead can be heard around the island.