Italy is a country full of elegance, beauty and charm and considering its storied past, you can bet it has more than its share of ghosts. Whether you are a firm believer or think the supernatural is restricted to the grand world of cinema, the Halloween season is the perfect time to indulge in a little paranormal intrigue. So sit back and enjoy our list of these genuinely spooky Italian haunts.
Poveglia Island, Venice
Poveglia Island, known as “The Island of Death,” is what Italians consider to be the most haunted place in Italy. The island is quite difficult to reach, as it is nearly impossible to find a boat operator who will take a curious tourist there. Guide books describe the island as ‘not visitable’ and the area remains uninhabited, with only a few old buildings rotting slowly away and ghost stories aplenty.
A forbidding place, the history of Poveglia may explain why the Venetian island is so frighteningly eerie. In the 15th and 16th centuries, when Europe was ravaged by the plague, travelers arriving in Venice were placed in quarantine on the island. During epidemics, the sick were shipped to die on Poveglia, their bodies buried in mass graves. Some say that as many as 160,000 people are buried there, though most of the graves remain untouched by archaeologists.
In 1922, a building on Poveglia was used as an asylum for the insane. A legend surrounding the asylum tells that a doctor tortured and butchered many of the patients, then went mad himself and jumped to his death from the bell tower. Ironically, it was not the fall which killed him; apparently a mysterious mist rose from the ground and strangled the life out of the murderous medico. Nowadays, it is no wonder no one wants to build on the island, despite its spectacular views of the Venetian lagoon.
Castello di Bardi, Parma
Bardi Castle near Parma is supposedly one of the most haunted castles in Italy. The legend tells that in the 14th century, a young officer named Moroello fell in love with Soleste, a beauty from a local noble family. The couple could not display their love in public, since Moroello was not of high enough stature. Soleste’s family would never have given the couple permission to marry.
When the young officer left for battle, the fair Soleste awaited his return at the walls of the castle. One day, after more than a month of waiting, Soleste saw a group of soldiers approaching and carrying the enemy’s flags. Thinking that her lover had been killed, Soleste jumped off the high castle wall to her death. However, the men were Moroello’s triumphant soldiers who were showing off the insignia of the army they had just defeated. When Moroello found out what happened to the love of his life, he decided to join her and promptly threw himself off one of the castle’s towers.
To this day, the ghost of Moroello wanders the castle grounds trying to find Soleste. A group of researchers from the center of para-psychological studies in Bologna apparently managed to take photos of a phantom. Those who are brave enough can enter the castle and explore for themselves the dark and spooky corners of the fortress.
Castello di Montebello, Torriana
This is probably the most famous ghostly legend in Italy. In this castle near Rimini, Guendalina Malatesta was a beautiful little girl, but she was an albino. At the time, people thought albinos were sent by demons to bewitch mortals and were evil incarnate. Some were even burned at the stake! In 1600, a parish priest wrote down the girl’s story.
Her father, always worried about the girl, made sure little Guenda had two guards at her side and did not allow her to leave the house because of the superstitions of the people. Her mother agreed and dyed her hair with natural herbs, which as they faded, would leave her hair with a blue hue. So she was nicknamed Azzurrina.
On June 21, 1375, the day of summer solstice, Azzurina was playing in the castle with a cloth ball. The weather outside was foul. As always, she was accompanied by her two guards. As she was playing, the ball rolled into the adjacent room and supposedly through a trapdoor into a subterranean chamber. Azzurina went to get her ball, but a moment later the guards heard a cry and ran into the room. They could find neither Guenda nor the ball. Legend says that Azzurrina is still in the castle. She cries out on the summer solstice, but only during years ending in a five or a zero. The castle was restored 30 years ago and it is open to the public. Various attempts have been made to record the summer solstice sounds and the recordings are usually played at the end of the sad, but chilling guided tour.
Casa delle Anime, Voltri
This is one of the most famous haunted houses of Italy. Situated in the Liguria area of northwest Italy, in the hamlet of Voltri, is a rather forbidding-looking roadside house. Its dark history would not be out of place in an Edgar Allan Poe story. During the Middle Ages, the mountain road was used by pilgrims, soldiers and merchants and Casa Delle Anime was a convenient stopping-point, as it was one of the few houses in the area offering refuge for the tired and hungry traveler. Hospitality came at quite a price, however.
The story goes that wealthy travelers would be encouraged to leave their belongings in a secluded room, reached only by a secret passageway. During the night a movable ceiling in their room would descend and suffocate the poor hapless traveler to death. Their body would then be interred in a mass grave at the back of the property.
The murderous family at Casa Delle Anime were eventually caught and executed. From that point on, the house was shunned by locals, believing it to be cursed and haunted. It only became inhabited again at the end of WWII. The area was heavily bombed by the Germans in 1944 and a family, made homeless by the destruction and desperate for accommodations, took refuge in the sinister place. They spoke of doors opening and closing by themselves, of dishes moving on their own and terrible noises coming from the garden.
Things came to a head when they were visited one evening by a young girl in a white dress. She seemed to be looking for her missing boyfriend. She slowly vanished, leaving behind only an aroma of roses. This was the last straw for the family and they moved out. In the 1950s, a body was apparently found buried in the garden, enclosed in a jute sack. The house has also become a favorite haunt of ghost-hunters and one visitor in recent years spoke of seeing a strange white shape crossing the road in front of him and then dissolving before his eyes.
Monastero Santa Radegonda, Milan
During the second half of the 14th century, Bernardina Visconti, a noblewoman and the daughter of rich and powerful Bernabò Visconti, was locked up by her father for committing adultery. Her spirit is said to haunt the monastery of Santa Radegonda. Bernardina was forced by her father into an arranged marriage with Gian Galeazzo of Bergamo, but was very unhappy with her husband. Like her father, Galeazzo was a cruel man. She soon sought entertainment with the young courtiers and fell in love with one of them, but their rebellious love was discovered by her father.
Fearing of the loss of influence and political power, Bernabò decided to personally punish his daughter. He accused the courtier of stealing and under torture, forced him to confess a crime he never committed. He had the young man hung in a public spectacle. To avoid the scandal associated with a public condemnation, he forced Bernardina to confess her adultery and banished her for life to the dungeons of Rocchetta di Porta Nuova.
Poor Bernardina was found dead little more than six months later, her demise quickened by starvation. However, Bernabò’s fate was no better. A few years later he died in the dungeons of the Castle of Trezzo d’Adda, where he had been imprisoned by his son-in-law, Gian Galeazzo.
It was not long thereafter that the nuns of the monastery of Santa Radegonda began to talk of the ghost of a beautiful young woman with long red hair who wandered the cloisters. Even today, among the columns of the church, from time to time people will glimpse a fleeting figure wrapped in a long cloak wandering aimlessly. Perhaps Bernardina is still looking for her beloved or perhaps she cannot decide to choose the path that will lead her to eternal peace, one that she certainly did not find with the cold dungeon of her death.
Tuscany also has numerous well-known ghosts and ghost stories. In the Pensione Burchianti, a room in Florence’s Hotel Burchianti (where Mussolini once stayed), there are numerous ghosts who seem to inhabit the room. One is a small, pinkish, translucent ghost. People have also reported seeing the ghost of a child who wanders the hallway, perhaps it is the same apparition. Apparently the spirits are fond of the room, there is even a ghostly maid who appears from time to time to tidy up, as well as an old woman who sits contentedly in a phantom rocking chair. She can only be spied in the room’s mirror, much to the surprise of guests.
The stunning botanical gardens of Lucca are said to be haunted by the beautiful Lucida Mansi, who, in order to retain her beauty throughout her life, sold her soul to the devil. Nowadays it is said that she can be seen riding in a ghostly flaming cart, her beauty still intact, as it makes a nighttime path across the gardens.