Haunted Venice: A Spooky City Guide to Venice
Venice is known as one of the most romantic cities in the world, but local tour guide Cristina knows that behind the postcard-perfect labyrinth of canals and calle (alleyways) lurks a hidden history steeped in horror. These tales of murder and mayhem form the backbone of her bestselling Venice Ghost and Legends Walking Tour.
During this moonlit stroll through the most chilling corners of Venice, she touches on eerie haunts that are the setting of spine-chilling stories of medieval serial killers and modern cursed palaces. Far from the bustle of the city’s famous sights, these deserted squares and darkened alleys evoke the Venice of centuries past, when murderers and criminals lurked behind every corner and venturing out after dark was a hair-raising risk.
On Cristina’s terrifying tour, you’ll delve into the city’s darkest secrets: ancient cemeteries buried beneath the cobblestones, mysterious sea creatures lurking in the murky canals, and Gothic palaces inhabited by shadowy specters. “On the Venice Ghost and Legends Walking Tour,” Cristina says, “you have the chance to walk with a local at night totally off the beaten path, listening to real stories that took place in the city a long time ago.”
A haunted history of Venice
With a history stretching over centuries, it comes as no surprise that Venice has seen countless sinister deeds and bloody ends. “Why is Venice’s past so dark?” Cristina asks. “[Consider that] on March 25th, 2021, Venice kicked off celebrations for the 1,600th anniversary of its founding. If these walls could talk, they would have much to say about the many people who have lived in each palazzo ... so many stories! There is still the energy of our past.”
Once one of the most powerful maritime republics in the world, Venice was the hub of a massive trading empire for almost a thousand years. The city was teeming with ship captains and sailors, traders, merchants, and moneylenders—along with thieves, assassins, gamblers, and other dwellers of the city’s underworld who left behind a trail of crime that became the stuff of legends. Many Venetians believe that the ghosts of their countless victims still roam the city today, and Cristina can list the most ghastly crimes off the top of her head.
“There are notorious murderers like the butcher Biagio de Carnio, the first serial killer in Venice,” she says. “Then there’s the story of the drowned man and the severed head, the murder of a woman whose husband cut off her head out of jealousy and then committed suicide, the murder of a very young woman that was put into a well, the lady dressed in white ….”
Venice’s most haunted attractions.
“My personal favorite stop [on the tour] is certainly the Scala Contarini del Bovolo,” says Cristina. Known in English as the Bovolo Staircase, this spiral flight of steps twists 90 feet up the inside of a cylindrical tower lined with open arches along the facade of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. Though it offers heavenly views over the Venetian rooftops from the top, this 15th-century architectural gem is also said to harbor sinister secrets.
Another ghastly highlight is Ca’ Dario, often called the House of No Return or the Bloody House. “Since its construction in 1478 to the last suicide there in 1992, it has been haunted and cursed with many victims,” Cristina explains. For off-the-beaten-path chills, she says, head to Venice’s storied Jewish Ghetto where the ghost of a rabbi is often spotted in the Italian synagogue (Scuola Italiana).
Don’t-miss spirited establishments.
Though Cristina doesn’t have any haunted eateries in Venice to recommend, she does note that the city’s most notorious murderer, local innkeeper Biagio de Carnio, was known to flavor his popular sguazzetto (a beef and sausage stew) with the body parts of his victims. Seek out this traditional dish to imagine the horror of his patron who came across a child’s finger floating in his lunch one day
You can also dine horror-adjacent by choosing a restaurant near the aptly named Rio Tera' dei Assassini (Assassin Alley). Narrow and dark, this spot was once a convenient lair for robbers and murderers awaiting their victims. Today it runs through the heart of Siestiere San Marco, a vibrant district thick with charming restaurants and cafés that belie the area’s dark past.
Find out what goes bump in the night.
“Many hotels in Venice used to be a private residence or monastery, convent, nunnery, or female mental asylum,” points out Cristina, “so my personal advice before going to sleep is to check under the bed, behind the curtains, or along the corridor. If you hear disembodied voices or unexplained footsteps or noise—[or someone] pulling your ankle or whispering in your ear—it could be one of our ancestors. But don’t panic! Remember that you are in Venice, the most haunted city in the world!”
If you are an avid ghost-hunter who is eager to sleep among the spirits, Cristina has a number of suggestions. “At Hotel Rialto, there is still a music box playing the melody of a child and a collection of dolls held in a cabinet that the housekeeper once found mysteriously facing the wall.” She also notes that Hotel San Clemente Palace Kempinski has a lift that goes up and down without anyone inside and lights flicker on and off in the bedrooms, while at Baglioni Hotel Luna, guests have reported hearing disembodied voices.
“I usually tell my guests that the best place to experience paranormal activity is probably where they are staying in Venice,” she explains. “Sweet dreams, sleep well!”
Venice’s most famous legends.
Cristina enjoys sharing the story of Casanova on her tours. “Giacomo Casanova is best known as one of the most famous lovers in history, but the Venetian was more than a womanizer,” she explains. “He was a scam artist and scofflaw, an alchemist, spy, and church cleric. He wrote satires, fought duels, and escaped from prison. He was also a guest of a very special casino (brothel) in Venice; on my tour, we enter a secret passageway known as ‘the last kissing spot,’ through which noblemen could easily sneak out after their fun and pleasure.”
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