If Venice’s dark alleys seem like the perfect setting for a ghost story, take heart – this is a city with plenty of tales to tell. Whether or not the spirits walking the city streets are real, well, that’s for you to decide.
It’s possible to explore the more gruesome aspects of Venice’s history even without making up ghost stories. Venice was hit hard by the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Plague or Black Death, in 1348, 1575, and again in 1630, resulting in roughly 100,000 deaths. The city’s notoriously relaxed attitudes toward sex, coupled with the general lack of knowledge in that time about protection, meant many people ended up with disfiguring sexually transmitted diseases (not to mention shorter life spans). And any city that was as wealthy and powerful as Venice for so many years was bound to attract a colorful array of people – the kinds of people who leave eyebrow-raising histories.
Even though the whole city seems haunted at times, there are a few places in Venice that are renowned for being haunted. By far the most haunted Venice location is an island in the Venetian lagoon that’s actually off-limits to visitors, so don’t worry that you’ll accidentally end up there just by wandering. The island is called Poveglia, and it served as one giant mass grave during nearly every outbreak of the Black Plague (dating all the way back to Roman times). In fact, when people started showing signs of having the plague, they were sent to Poveglia island to die, just to get them away from the remaining healthy people in Venice. One record says that more than 160,000 people have died on Poveglia island. If that wasn’t enough, Poveglia is also the setting for Venice’s former mental hospital, built in the 1920s. Legend says the doctor who ran the hospital tortured his patients before finally succumbing to the island’s ghost stories and going mad himself.
Other haunted places in Venice are on the main islands – among them the Casin degli Spiriti (which means “house of the spirits”), said to be inhabited by the ghost of a former inhabitant who committed suicide in the house, and the real-life setting for a ghastly 1950 murder of a young woman. To add, the narrow alleyways in Venice called “the Assassins” for all the murders that have taken place there and the Ca Dario, a palazzo on the Grand Canal known locally as the “House of No Return” because of the curse on every owner and family in the house since the 15th century. In total, 15 of the Ca Dario owners or members of their families have died mysteriously, five more went bankrupt and three had serious accidents.
Want to explore haunted Venice up close? Sign up for the Venice Ghost Walking Tour.