After our second day of sightseeing, we began our night with a good ol’ fashioned Venetian ghost tour. Our tour guide picked us up from the top of the Rialto bridge and we began our walking tour through the city. Our tour guide’s family had been in Venice for many generations. She was a fabulous guide because Venice is her hometown.
The tour began in a secluded piazza. This is where Christina told the first and – in my opinion – the most gruesome tale of the night. If you are easily scared, you may want to skip below – this is not a tale for the faint of heart!!!
In the 15th century, the butcher Signore Biasio Cargnio was known to have the best Bolognese in Venice. One day a patron of his butcher shop and restaurant was enjoying a hot dish of some bolognese. Suddenly, the patron felt something caught in his throat and began to choke. Thankfully, he was able to cough up whatever was caught in his throat and onto his plate – which happened to be a human finger.
The man immediately called the police. In the back of Biasio’s shop they found the bodies of chopped up children that had been used in the butcher Biasio’s famous Bolognese.
Biasio confessed to killing the children to “add more flavor to his dishes,” but it was never established how many children he killed or how he got hold of them. They estimate it was somewhere between 11-20 children. It is believed he stole these children from the streets of Venice. At the time the city was heavily populated and many orphans roamed the streets without supervision.
So what was Biasio’s punishment? The serial killer was first dragged by a horse to the prisons. At the prison he had his hands chopped off, then he was tortured and then he was beheaded in St Mark’s Square.
His house and shop were demolished but the name “Biasio” still lives on in the form of a ferry stop named after the nearby location of his shop – “Riva De Biasio.”
As we walked to our next location, Christina described how much more frightening and mysterious the streets of Venice were before electricity. There were various alleys and areas of the city that had no light, just pitch black darkness. Because of this, it made it very easy to be mugged, robbed, or assaulted when walking through the streets alone at night. To prevent attack, nobles would bring their servants along, traveling in front of them with torches ablaze.
We learned that there were three types of masks worn by Venetians during this time. I thought that masks were only worn during Venetian Carnavale. But long ago, masks were not only a Carnavale thing – they were worn whenever you wanted to conceal your identity.
During the 1500s-1700s there were many wealthy Venetians and the size of Venice was small, therefore you had a higher chance of running into your rich neighbors. In order to conceal your identity, visit underground casinos, local brothels and do other debaucherous things without being judged by society, there were three masks you could wear:
A solid black one for ladies, a white one for men, and a white mask painted with pink cheeks, red lips if you were gay. This third mask, was called the “Gnaga” mask. Although you could be punished by death (hanging in St. Marc’s Square) for being gay in Venice during this time, if you did “sinful acts” in a mask you would not be recognized, therefore not punished.
Now, if you will imagine walking down a pitch dark alley and a nobleman and his servant come swooping down towards you with masks and big black cloaks on, holding torches. HOLY SHIT THAT WOULD SCARE ME! Thankfully, in the 1700s, street lamps were installed to make the city safer at night.
One of the last tales from the tour was of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. This is a mansion in Venice known for it’s incredibly tall spiral staircase. The story included a young woman being chased down into a dark piazza behind the mansion and thrown into a well. Needless to say, she never got out of the well and still haunts the piazza to this day.
At the end of the tour, Christina offered a complimentary vaparetto ride to Isola di San Clemente. Between 1844 – 1992 the island housed a female mental hospital. The asylum housed women of Venice who were “considered insane.” As we now know from history, many of these women may not have been mentally ill, but sent away to the asylum against their will by their husbands to “get rid of them.” Mussolini sent his mistress Ida Dalser to San Clemente, incarcerating her. The island earned a reputation among Venetians as going to San Clemente meant going mad.
Now the island is home to a luxury hotel, “San Clemente Palace Kempinski” which opened in March 2016. I guess if you want to have a “Shining”-like experience go stay at this hotel.
We did not take Christina up on the offer and opted instead to rejoin the living. We tried squid ink pasta, had great late night snacks and cocktails at Bacarando. But, perhaps, the ghosts had decided to come along for our midnight passeggiata after all – we passed a black cat in an alley on our way home.