Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Psst! Wanna Buy a Venetian Island for 99 Euros?

The island of Poveglia (middle ground), as seen from atop the Porta Nuova tower at the Arsenale
Though it sounds rather like the chance to buy the Brooklyn Bridge that slick New York City con men were always offering out-of-town rubes in old American movies and cartoons, for a limited time you really do have an opportunity to buy an abandoned island in the Venetian lagoon for just 99 euros. Or at least a share of one. And, depending on whom you believe, this island comes fully loaded--at no additional cost!--with history and valor and horror and lunacy and no shortage of ghosts.

The name of the island is Poveglia, it's located just a short distance west of Lido, and it's due to be auctioned off on May 6. A group of Venetians living on Giudecca, afraid that this piece of Venetian history would (as has happened far too often in recent years) be snatched up by some private interest and converted into yet another "tourist destination," decided that a group of citizens themselves should band together to make a bid on the island with the goal of developing and preserving the island for public purposes.

The enthusiastic response to this idea--the headline on today's paper said "thousands" had already signed on and contributed--is an indication of how sick and tired Venetians are of seeing their cultural patrimony sold out from beneath them. The name of the association created to make this bid is Poveglia Per Tutti (or Poveglia for Everyone), and you can read all about their plans for the island (in Italian, English or French) and even make a contribution and become a member of the association yourself at: message-in-a-bottle.org 

Or visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/povegliapertutti

For information about the history of Poveglia, as well as its place in Venetian culture today (and potentially in the future), I'd suggest you take a look at a recent post on the blog A Garden in Venice: http://www.gardeninvenice.com/2014/04/why-do-venetians-want-to-save-poveglia.html

Anglo-American media have almost exclusively depicted Poveglia as "The World's Most Haunted Island",  but A Garden in Venice emphasizes that Venetians also know it as one of the first islands in the area to be settled, whose inhabitants so vigorously contributed to the defeat of Pepin's ill-guided invasion of the lagoon in the year 809 that their representative was granted the rare privilege of kissing the doge on the lips once a year.

But if it's precisely the spooky side of Poveglia you're interested in, Robin Saikia--author of the extremely entertaining and insightful Blue Guide Travel Monograph The Venice Lido--recounts the darker events of the island's long long history and his own visit to it in his piece "A Day Trip to Hell": http://www.robinsaikia.com/p/poveglia-island-of-sadness-and-terror.html

In fact, Robin Saikia is himself part of another group planning to bid on Poveglia. Like the association Poveglia Per Tutti, Saikia's group (The Poveglia Foundation) also believes, in its own words, that the island "should not fall into the hands of speculators intent on turning (it) into a luxury hotel development. The time has come to take a stand against... entrepreneurial vandalism of this kind." You can see their proposed plans for the island at http://www.povegliafoundation.com/


  1. I am eagerly awaiting the outcome of the auction. I admire the way this issue galvanized the group from Giudecca.


    1. People do seem to be very enthused about it, Yvonne (though while I was signing on the other day to Poveglia per Tutti a Venetian who happened by started telling me why he himself would not pitch in, but that he was glad that others were. Go figure.) I'm hoping for a good outcome.

  2. Well, I've put my money where my mouth is (that's one of those statements that has never made sense to me, but still ...), so I've got a vested interest now.

    1. If money is "filthy lucre" it seems you wouldn't want it anywhere near your mouth, Yvonne, but, in any case, I have vested interest also.