Italy’s “Most Haunted”: Poveglia by Dragon Boat | La Vita Nuova | Year Abroad Adventures

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Italy’s “Most Haunted”: Poveglia by Dragon Boat

Have you ever heard of Poveglia? It’s a tiny island between Venice and Lido, and it’s had its fair share of news articles from mainstream outlets and websites dedicated to documenting the supernatural. It was first brought to my attention when it was auctioned in 2014 and sold to businessman Luigi Brugnaro. Now, I’m not a big believer in ghosts, but it still gave me the creeps and I firmly decided not to ever go (just in case).

Well, that plan didn't really work out. 😛

During my time at university in Venice, I’ve been learning to paddle in dragon boats. If you’ve never heard of the sport, it originated from Chinese folk rituals, and today many people from around the world participate in races. It’s super fun, especially in sunny weather, when you can essentially row yourself along the Venice canals and see the sights from an unconventional angle. I won’t cover everything about them now, since I’ll probably write a full post about dragon boating… But here’s a picture of a fancy painted one to give you an idea! (Ours are just plain white for training.)
European Dragon Boat Championships 2000
It’s getting a bit too cold for regular lessons now, but to finish off this season of dragon boating we went on a morning expedition to one of the nearby islands. It wasn’t until we were already on the way that our instructor started saying things like “20 minutes and we’ll be at Poveglia!” – at first I wondered if he was joking (since almost no one actually visits it), but when I realised he wasn’t… I low-key freaked out! What if the rumours were true and we ran into something spooky?

I must admit, the morning fog was not helping my fears either.
Poveglia 01 by FOTOlogie on Flickr
After some time paddling in the direction of the island and barely seeing anything at all for the fog, the first shadowy shapes of Poveglia emerged from the mist. It was seriously like being in a horror movie! We steered the boats down a canal lined by unruly vegetation, and parked them by a bank and a very precarious-looking bridge. From that point, we had 15-20 minutes to look around the island before we headed back to base at Sacca Fisola for food. (Unfortunately I had left my camera back there to go paddling, so these photos of the island aren't my own.)

The rumour is that Poveglia’s soil is anything up to 50% human ash, so it’s not the most encouraging ground to step onto on a chilly morning. That said, we had a few children and their parents who had tagged along for the trip, and their happy shouting after the instructor’s dog definitely made the atmosphere less oppressive.

The general impression of the part of Poveglia we explored is that it’s a little overgrown. (Less so than you might expect actually, considering it’s been abandoned.) I did come across a table and chairs (left out as if for a picnic or barbecue), a wooden giraffe, and a few posters which seem to have been made to promote the island as a tourist location, with information on some ruined buildings and landmarks. It’s really hard to tell how old these are, but since there doesn't seem to have been much renovation, I can’t imagine they’re especially new.
After a quick walk around we met back at the bridge to cross the canal. This made me quite apprehensive, as it’s a wooden bridge with no guard rails which seems to be slowly decaying in parts. It’s wide enough that you can walk across without too much worry, but the flimsy wood didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. For what it’s worth, no one fell in the canal! We took a group photo by one of the buildings, and headed back to the boats to go home. We got a good view of the old psychiatric hospital on the way out – I feel like I would’ve gotten a much creepier idea of the island if I had gone inside there… 😰 Once back, we enjoyed some roasted chestnuts (it was my first time trying them: they’re pretty nice!), sandwiches, snacks, and cake. Don’t mind if I do! ❤️ Our instructor’s dog also got a chance to dry off, as the poor thing fell in the water in her excitement.
Cooking the chestnuts!
In hindsight, it was perhaps a shame that we didn’t have more time to look around Poveglia, seeing as it’s so rare to get to visit it. I feel very, very lucky to have stepped on its shores, despite how creepy it may have seemed at the time. I certainly didn’t have any spooky experiences, but who knows… It’s a very unique story for me to tell, so I’m grateful for the whole experience!

Have you guys ever been anywhere spooky or haunted? I’d love to hear about your experiences…


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