Petrifying Poveglia: Venice’s Haunted Island

Welcome, guys and ghouls. Today, once again, marks the spook-tacular occasion of All Hallows’ Eve…

But, we couldn’t let it pass without an annual ghost story, brought to you from some of the spookiest places in Europe and beyond.
And, although we touched on it briefly last Halloween in our 9 of the Spookiest Places in Europe blog, this year, we’re handing over our freaky focus to Italy, and the petrifying island of Poveglia!
If you’ve visited Venice, you may have spotted Poveglia without even feeling its eerie presence across the lagoon.
Just a stone’s throw from the glitz of one of the world’s most famous cities, Poveglia is a rundown, uninhabited island, situated in the lagoon between Venice and the seaside resort of Lido.
Sounds idyllic, right? Wrong. It’s actually considered the most haunted island in the world!!
It began its inhabited life as a hub for the people of Venice, escaping barbarian invasion and had a healthy population growth, actually becoming a civilised part of society. But, in 1379, Venice came under attack from the Genoan fleet and the people of Poveglia we’re moved leaving the island deserted.

And thus begins the story of how this petite island in the blue lagoon became one of the most feared in history…

(It’s even said to make the toes of even the most hardened fisherman, curl…)

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Poveglia Island

For good reason, too. Once acting as a dumping ground for victims of the plague, Poveglia was the chosen destination after the Roman’s decided to keep the ill quarantined, far away from the healthy. Sufferers we’re left there to live out their last days, isolated from family and friends, until they dropped dead.
But, it doesn’t stop there. The following epidemic of the bubonic plague once again saw the island used as a mass grave. Bodies were taken over, dumped and burned. In fact, the numbers were so high, even today, the soil composition of the entire island is actually 50% human ash!
There was such an intent to stopping the disease spread that if you so much as sneezed, you would be plucked away from your home and taken straight to bubonic hell.
It doesn’t end there, either. More recently and probably more sinisterly, it was used as a mental asylum.
You can probably imagine, the understanding of mental illness was pretty poor back then, and the care was atrocious. But, as legend has it, the doctor who ran the hospital was exceptionally twisted.
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Plague doctors wore long-nosed masks stuffed with herbs to filter out infected air

Tales of lobotomies, torturous experiments – such as shunting chisels into patient’s brains, just to see what moved, and mental torture were rife. But, don’t expect Poveglia’s very own Doctor Evil to show any compassion.
The patients, or inmates for a better name, were said to be haunted by the groans and screams of the plague victim’s spirits left behind. But, of course, these people were considered ‘insane’, and were largely ignored.
But, in the spirit of good over evil, the doctor met his fate after he became tortured by the troubled souls left behind from centuries of suffering. Some of which, a result of his own ‘care’.
So tormented, he jumped to his death from the islands iconic bell tower, the remnants of a derelict church. Some say he jumped, others say he was dragged, screaming for mercy, by angry inmates to the top and flung to his death.
Although, some say the fall didn’t actually kill him. Instead he was swallowed by a mist that rose from the ground and slowly suffocated him.
Some even say his body was bricked up in the bell tower and his spirit still haunts the island to this day.
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Even to the cynics out there, you have to admit this island has a very creepy past. And, let us tell you, everyone who visits the island, including Psychics, have been left so traumatised they have been unable to return.
Visitors report a heavy, dark and evil atmosphere filling the air around them, and tortured moans can still be heard. There’s even times when the bell from the famed tower will begin ringing… despite there no longer being a bell there.
The island was put up for sale in 2013 and was sold at auction for more than £400,000. Sounds like a deal in comparison to rising house prices in the UK. But, the restoration of the island alone is said to cost around £16.25 MILLION! That’s scary in itself!
Although the businessman who snapped up the island has said he’d like to make it a public attraction, you’ve got to be one brave person to set foot on Poveglia. Would you dare?

🎃👻Happy Halloween!👻🎃

 

Paul Reed: Being a Battlefield Guide

In my capacity as Head Battlefield Guide for Leger, every year I get dozens of letters and emails from people asking how they can become battlefield guides, or could they come to work for us.

However, what is clear is that often few of these prospective guides have any real idea of what is involved, or what we really do. So what is a battlefield guide, and what do we do?!
I did my first paid job as a battlefield guide in April 1987 when I took members of the Henry Williamson Society around the WW1 battlefields, and I am lucky to have been working pretty much continuously ever since.

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Early Days with Leger on the Somme

How did I get into it?

It was simple, living in the south-east I had been in a good position to visit battlefields since the late 1970s and I had a good knowledge of the ground. First friends asked me to take them, then groups like this.
How I guided then was very different to how I do it now but certain things never change: it is not all about baffling groups with military terminology, rattling off lists of units, dates and commander’s names… it’s about people – and as I often say, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Most groups want to hear about the experience of war: what it was like, what people went through, how long they were there, what the conditions were like, what did they eat, where did they go to the toilet?
In that respect battlefield guiding is like story-telling, and that is not a bad analogy. I find that the most successful tours are ones that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Groups like to see a logical and understandable sequence to their visits, they like to understand how they are connected, they enjoy big themes, with some micro-detail to lighten the dark corners or blurred edges.
What they generally don’t want are ‘stands’ – a military style of battlefield tour that is fine for staff-rides but not for civilians, especially when discussing World Wars when the average British soldier was a civvie in Khaki themselves.

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Paul Reed Talking to WW2 Veteran in Italy

Reading, Talking and Knowing your Roads

Reading, reading and more reading is always the best approach for battlefield guides. Read everything, read the new books because people will ask about them, read the old books, the ones by those who were there – those are very important, because they give the ground-up viewpoint. But don’t ignore the historians: battlefield tours can be a way of educating a wider public, so being aware of recent historiography, new thoughts on your period: that is very important too. It also means you can never have enough books, which is a bonus as well.
Talking, talking and more talking is also the best approach too. If you are shy, or not good at public speaking, this is not a job for you. Don’t just talk when you are on the ground, either. That is what the microphone on your vehicle is for: tell people what they are seeing as you travel, link these places with stories from the books you have read. Which means you have to know your ground: perhaps the thing new guides invest the least in, is knowledge of the battlefield as it is today.
You need to know the roads, the tracks, the best routes and the worst ones too: and more importantly how this terrain fits into the picture of the conflict you are guiding. Without that, you could just be driving around in circles and no-one would really be the wiser. And with the technology we have now, there is no excuse: a far cry from the days when I poured over paper maps and tried to re-imagine the places I had been on the last trip over.

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Guide’s Recce at Waterloo

In the end, your work as a battlefield guide should always be an evolving process. Never be afraid to change, or listen to advice from others. Most working guides are happy to share knowledge and contacts, and help people out. As guides we should have a common bond, and we have a duty to share what we have learned not just with groups but with fellow guides, too.
I often get asked do I get fed up with it: doing the same thing, visiting the same places? But how could I, when you consider what these places are and what they stand for. I consider myself blessed being able to be among them so often. Fortunate to have spent so many days in the company of veterans of both World Wars on the ground where they fought as young men. Honoured to have helped relatives visit a family grave, and shed a few tears with them over it.
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Taking a Family Back to a Wargrave in Flanders

And lucky, so lucky, that what has driven me for most of my life is also my job: a job where I have watched the ashes of a last veteran scattered across a Somme field, seen an old man weep over the grave of the man who saved his life, and experienced the comradeship of common experience as I’ve walked the ground with groups where so much took place: a landscape which in itself is a last witness that speaks to us if we care to listen.
Because, finally, the joy of battlefield guiding is not what the guide gets from it, but what the group experiences, sees and understands. None of us are bigger than the subject; perhaps one of the best mantras any perspective guide should always bear in mind. Be true to your passion, and never forget the debt we owe the men and women we discuss: with that approach, you can never go wrong.
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Leger Coach on the Battlefields

 
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Berlin: Delve into the History of the German Capital

Berlin. If there was ever a city that had it all, this is it. From history, to architecture. From war to peace, and from old to new.

Home to around 3.6 million people, Germany’s biggest city dates back to the 13th century. And, one thing we all know is that it has a rather tumultuous past.
Seeing the rise, and subsequent fall of Hitler, sustaining heavy damage through WWII. Divided by the Cold War and reunified with the help of none other than Baywatch legend David Hasselhoff.
And, with a varied past comes an extremely interesting present, you can see why the city is fascinating to many.
But, it’s not the sort of place you can only read about in book. It’s a city that you truly have to explore, with so much to see and do, it is one of the most exciting places to visit in Europe, that’s for sure.
So, let us take you through some of Berlin’s most historically important landmarks to visit on your trip to Berlin.

Berlin Wall

Whilst the Berlin Wall felt the fate of reunification when it officially became redundant on the 9th November, 1989, and the majority of the divisive wall was later torn to the ground. But, in the interest of history and tourism, part of it actually still stands today.
And, it has been reinvented as a rather unique art gallery. Consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, the East Side Gallery is a canvas for artistic visions of optimism, freedom and friendship.
It also holds the title of the world’s longest open air gallery, at more than 1km in length.
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Checkpoint Charlie

Following the East Berlin’s communist party announcing that relations had thawed with the west, citizens from both sizes of the wall greeted each other drinking beer and champagne alongside chanting of “Tor auf!”, or “open the gate”, if German isn’t your strong point.
And, it happened. The former Allied sentry post, Checkpoint Charlie, was officially closed. But, unlike the majority of the wall, Checkpoint Charlie still, sort of, exists and has become a major tourist attraction.
Where the border once sat, it is now marked with cobbles. And a replica of the guard house and sign that marked the border crossing are sat in the spot of the original Checkpoint Charlie. A great insight into the history of a divided city.
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Brandenburg Gate

For a real look into past, Brandenburg Gate is actually the only remaining city gate that used to separate East and West Berlin.
But, despite its unsavoury past, it’s now considered a symbol of unity, signifying the exact opposite of its intended purpose.
And, interestingly, whilst the gate is an original piece of history that still stands to this day, the Quadriga, crowning the structure actually had a little stint in another European great, Paris, in 1806.
When Berlin was occupied by the French, Napoleon demanded the bronze statue to be taken to the French capital. However, following the battle of Waterloo, it was triumphantly returned to Berlin and, once again, adorned the gate.
A cross and an eagle were added upon its return to signify the victory. But, it was soon removed from the Quadriga as the cross was thought to have associations with Prussian militarism. However, if you’ve noticed it’s still there today, that’s because it was restored after reunification in 1990.
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Reichstag Building

Now, if you’re looking for the most visited building in the city, the Reichstag is where you need to be. Rising high above the city, and much like the rest of Berlin, it too has had a turbulent past.
Destroyed in WWII, captured by the soviet troops and abandoned during the years Berlin was divided. But, since 1991 the German parliament voted to reinstate Berlin as the capital and move parliament back to Reichstag.
The new Reichstag building, whilst keeping its historic façade, updated its looks with a fairly impressive glass dome to get a bird’s eye view of the German capital.
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Museum Island

And talking about impressive architecture, Museum Island has plenty to offer. Yes, an island of museums situated in the Spree River has actually been awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription.
Host to 5 museums, the island is unique due to its ability to illustrate the evolution of museum design throughout the 20th century. In fact, between 1824 and 1930, as each museum was built, they were done so in accordance to the art the museum would host.
So, not only are you having a cultural lesson investing in some unique art pieces, you can be sure that the buildings are a work of art, too.
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But, even with all of this, we’re still only scratching the surface of what this magnificent city has to offer. Whether you’re looking for its historic heart or simply its cosmopolitan present, there’s so much to see and do, it’s a perfect city break for everyone.
Christmas Markets, Battlefield tours and short breaks, take a look at our holidays that take in Berlin by clicking here.