If they don't, Poveglia will become just another resort.
It's supposed to be one of the planet's paranormal hot-spots, at least according to Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures and Fox's reality TV show Scariest Places on Earth. Plague victims were confined on the island, and over 100,000 of them are supposed to be buried there; nobody knows exactly where, as the location of the plague pits was never recorded. For much of the 20th Century it housed an insane asylum, but it's been abandoned for half a century. Now the 17 acre island of Poveglia, between Venice and the Lido in the glorious Venetian Lagoon, is getting interest of an altogether different kind: investors want to turn it into a luxury resort, and the locals don't like that idea at all.
"This Anglo-Saxon tradition of ghosts is una cazzata (bullshit)," says Lorenzo Pesola, one of the founding members of Poveglia Per Tutti (Poveglia for All). He and many other Venetians have fond memories of illicit childhood expeditions to the abandoned island, to steal peaches, dive in the lagoon, and fish for squid. The island's been abandoned since the closure of the asylum in 1968, which helps to build atmosphere - few things are spookier than the remains of an abandoned mental hospital at night - but it also made it better than Disneyland for generations of kids. They don't want it to become yet another luxury destination, but the state - its current owner - intends to auction off its 99-year lease on May 7th.
So they're stepping up and putting in their own bids. None of them could afford Poveglia's lease on their own, but if they band together at €99 ($137) a shot, they hope their combined effort will seal the deal. If it works, the group intends to turn two thirds of the island into a campsite, while the remaining third will - under the conditions of the lease bid - be used for entrepreneurial activity. It already has the €20,000 it needs to take part in the auction in May; with luck it will have enough cash in its war chest to see off the other bidders.
"The chance of visiting a real Venice ten years from now, rather than just a crystal image of it," says Pesola. "That's what they would be supporting."
Images: Strange Geographies