Italy is not only a land of history, art and beauty, but also of bone chilling mysteries: when it comes to fear, brutal unsolved murders are usually the first thing our minds run to, and il Bel Paese certainly has its fair share of those. There is, however, something primordial in the unsettling terror ghost stories manage to rise in each and every one of us, probably because they touch upon feelings and emotions we can barely control, and bring us back to our childhood.
If the evil perpetrated by man is more real and, ultimately, closer to us, the fear of the unknown and the unexplicable seems to scare us just as much: whether you believe in ghosts or not, the creepiness of these haunted houses – most of them unhabited and abandoned – is bound to make you want to sleep with the lights on tonight...
Piemonte: Villa Pastore and its forgotten children
A short reportage about Villa Pastore by Lucio Laugelli (in Italian)
On the quaint hills behind the town of Valenza (Alessandria) is one of the spookiest places of Piemonte, Villa Pastore. The once breathtaking mansion was built for the noble family of the Pastores in the 1830s, in a neo-medieval style; many locals still remember the beauty of its interiors, enriched by amazingly detailed mosaic floors. Yes, because Villa Pastore was still used as a rental property until the 1950s. But what is behind the gloomy, horrifying tales related to this place?
The answer is simple, death. Specifically, the tragic death of two children, Elisa and Giovanni Pastore, daughter and son of Villa Pastore's owners. Elisa died of tubercolosis in 1873, at the age of 2, her brother Giovanni 10 years later, at 13, when part of the ceiling collapsed on him while he was playing the piano. Overwhelmed by the pain and sorrow of such losses, the Pastores decided to move into another residence, leaving their beautiful, but unfortunate house empty.
As said, part of Villa Pastore was rented out to vacationers and tourists until the 1950s, but the building was eventually left uninhabited and neglected. Fast forward to the 1980s when – in spite of legends about ghostly appearances of little Elisa in the villa's gardens and pianos playing at night already circulating for a while – the house's new owners decided to renovate it and bring it back to its old grandeur. Apparently, though, death struck mysteriously again, when two workmen lost their lives while overviewing the extent of structural damages on the building. Even if this latter occurance is said to be only a legend, it added allure to the already established reputation of Villa Pastore as a haunted house.
Today, paranormal buffs and chill lovers like to visit Villa Pastore's grounds, even though the building itself is no longer approachable because extremely dangerous. In what once used to be the villa's gardens, a red, commemorative stone for little Elisa can still be seen. Here, people have a habit to leave plush toys and candies for the dead child, who is said to come out of the darkness seeking play companions every now and then.
One last coup-de-theâtre: Elisa's grave is not in the Valenza cemetery, where all of her family (including her brother Giovanni) lays to rest, and has yet to be located. Some say she was buried at the villa and that, for this reason, she still hangs around it today.
Lombardia: Villa de Vecchi, the most haunted house in Italy
Villa de Vecchi, also known as "la villa rossa" because of the color of its exterior, is by many considered the "most haunted house" in the country. It was built between 1854 and 1857 for Count Felice de Vecchi, a known historical figure of Lombardia, active during the Risorgimento for the independence of the region from Austrian domination. The count longed for tranquillity and chose this secluded area of the Valsassina for his holiday home. Apparently, de Vecchi invested an enormous amount of money in it: about 44 thousand liras of that time. The original plan called for a three storey house, with an astronomical observatory on the roof which, however, was never built. "La villa rossa" was surrounded by beautiful woods and its large front garden was embellished by fountains, which are no longer extant, even though you can still see them in some vintage photos.
Now... why is Villa de Vecchi haunted? Well, there is quite a number of legends about it: the first tells a homicide-suicide took place within its walls. Another mentions the death of an illegitimate daughter of the count, whose body was never found; one of the most gruesome is about the death of de Vecchi's wife and daughter and of the horrible mutilations of their bodies. Last, but not least, there are rumours of satanic rituals: certainly, the fact that occultism master extraordinaire, good old Alistair Crowley (more about him below), sejourned here only added flair and credibility to this specific story.
In fact, Crowley is said to have practiced rituals at Villa de Vecchi, but there is no evidence showing any murder or even natural death took place here at all. Actually, the son of the villa's last caretakers recently declared to the Corriere della Sera that nothing paranormal or gruesome has ever taken place in the mansion and that, on the contrary, he only has beautiful and serene memories of the place.
Today, Villa de Vecchi is abandoned and neglected. It is easy to reach: you can get there following SP 62 to Bindo, a "frazione" of Cortenova, near Lecco. It belongs to the Officine Melese e Gnocchi of Cortenova, which do not seem to have any intention to fix it and bring it to its ancient grandeur: Villa de Vecchi was built near a mountain, in an area at high risk of hydro-geological damages and its owners just do not see the point in restauring it when it could be destroyed in a second by a landslide. Villa de Vecchi's curse comes down to this: the incapability of man to fight against the power of nature.
Liguria: la casa delle Anime, or the murder inn
If nothing ever happened in Villa de Vecchi, a lot took place in this unassuming house in Voltri, near Genoa, known as la casa delle anime. The house, built in the 18th century, was owned by a family who turned it into an inn for travellers.
Or so they wanted everyone to believe.
More demons than caring hosts, the lovely bunch sent the wealthier among their clients to a room at the back of the building, to "enjoy a quieter night of rest." In truth, the room had a moveable ceiling, which was released during the night, crushing the unaware guests to death. Corpses were then thrown into a communal grave dug at the back of the house itself. The police eventually caught up with the criminals, who were arrested.
Because of these events, the building remained empty until the Second World War, when a desperate family took refuge there: they were the first to witness and report paranormal activity in the house. From objects moving on their own, to screams and wails coming from the murder room, the family saw it all, but never left until a girl, one night, knocked at the door and asked about her missing fiancé: nothing strange, you may think, if it was not for the fact the girl clearly came from another era and spoke of people dead for at least 200 years.
Today, a family lives in la casa delle anime (the house of souls), but only in its front rooms, which were never part of the murder inn. It is in Via dei Giovi in Voltri, but tourists are not welcome inside.
Another popular haunted spot of Liguria is the Casa del Violino (the violin house) at Scogna Sottana (La Spezia). Legends say the small, secluded house was once home to a talented violinist, who misteriously disappeared without a trace, leaving behind his instrument, which can still be heard playing at night.
Emilia-Romagna: Villa Clara and her future-reading victim
The story behind Villa Clara's haunting is among the more horrifying we will read about here. This elegant home, located in Bologna at 449 of Via Zanardi, near Trebbo di Reno, was originally built in the 16th century. Throughout the decades, Villa Clara had several names, a fact which often creates a bit of confusion among those seeking for it, so be aware: Villa Clara could also by known by some as Casino del Trebbo, Villa Malvasia (not to be mistaken with Palazzo Malvasia) or Villa Alessandri.
Today, Villa Clara is an abandoned dwelling, surrounded by a desolate, unattended garden and inhabited by the ghost, or so the urban legend wants, of young Clara, who died here. Clara called this house home at the beginning of the 20th century and was a special child: she could predict the future. Her own father found this so incredibly frightening and unsettling, he became convinced his daughter was evil and... buried her alive within the walls of the villa. The girl died an awful death and her body still lays abandoned somewhere within the building. Her soul, uncapable to find peace, still roams its rooms.
Another version of the legend says Clara was a teenager who fell in love with a boy underneath her social position: her father, disapproving of the union, buried her alive.
Whichever version you prefer (I personally am a fan of the first), Clara can be heard screaming and crying at night inside the villa, as well as around it. Spooky.
Emilia-Romagna: the witch of Villa Magnoni
Very little is known about Villa Magnoni, an abandoned dwelling in Cona, near Ferrara. The old, grand house must once have been magnificent, but it has been empty for decades. Nobody knows who exactly had it built. Nobody knows why it was abandoned and left to itself in the first place. Its secluded, obscure location may have added to the mystery: if you travel on the SP22 in Emilia, nearing Cona, you will spot the woods among which Villa Magnoni rests. It was once a beautiful, rich place: there were a main house, stables, gardens and cottages for the keeper and his family. Nothing but a shadow – and a very dark one – of it remains today. All past attempts to sell the house, it seems, failed miserably: today, it appears to be owned by the University of Ferrara (even though other sources mention different owners), which wanted to turn it into research labs. Yet, nothing has been done and nothing is planned to be done with it any time soon. But why?
Well, la maledizione di Villa Magnoni (the curse of Villa Magnoni), as it is commonly known, is a pretty recent affair compared to the other stories we talked about so far. It seems that, at the beginning of the 1980s, a group of four teenagers went to the villa to, ahem, kill some time. While scouting around the garden and inside a section of the house they heard children voices coming from the opposite pavillion and ran towards it. There certainly were no children, but they did see a dreadful old woman at a window, screaming in rage, telling them to get lost and never to return. Terrified, the boys left but, while running away from the house and its ghostly apparition, they were hit by a car and three of them died. The forth, afraid and in shock, managed to return home to tell the story.
Soon after this episode, the town council of Cona decided to have all of Villa Magnoni's doors and windows walled up, to avoid traspassing. A week later, the window where the four kids had seen the old witch was, however, once again unwalled, open and accessible. The voice of a woman whispering threateningly has been often heard by all those courageous enough to venture near the house.
L' Abbazia di Thélema: Alistair Crowley's Sicilian dwellings
Alistair Crowley is a well known name of modern occultism, even though his powers upon the dark world of the unknown may have not been all that extraordinary. Mr Crowley was, in my opinion, good at giving a certain image of himself more than anything else, but whichever way you want to read his figure, he remains without a doubt a seminal figure for occultists and an interesting character for historians. Crowley loved Italy and settled in Cefalù for a while. Here, in a relative small and quite modest country cottage, he set his Abbazia di Thélema, the Abbey of Thélema. Crowley, who self defined himself "the great beast," in an attempt to make people believe that his penchant for oriental clothing and strange rituals made him some sort of Satan VIP, lived in this small house in the Santa Barbara area of Cefalù for three years, along with two women and the children of one or either both of them.
When he came to Italy, in the 1910s, Crowley was already a well known figure of esoterism in Britain; he had embraced many cults and religions, but abandoned them all, to found eventually his own, the cult of Thélema. In it, man was at the centre of the universe and he, Crowley, was a messiah. Strange rituals, sex and drugs were some of Crowley's favorite activities: nothing strange to modern standards, but at that time, it made Britain first and Italy then scream out in fear and disgust. Crowley was officially expelled from the country by Benito Mussolini in the mid 20s because of his bizarre lifestyle.
Since then, the Abbazia di Thélema has remained pretty much empty: it is not considered haunted, but, considering who owned it, we may easily imagine something dodgy took place within it. Moreover, because of the building's association with Crowley, it is said to have attracted Satanists throughout the years, and certainly its walls are covered with cryptic, Devil related messages. An interesting feature of the house is the presence of many wall paintings from Crowley's time: they are as creepy as hell...
This is a very short selection of haunted houses in Italy: each region, each province has a series of spooky places to visit and of scary legends to listen to. If you are a ghost stories aficionado, ask locals: you may get to know some spine chilling stories to tell your friends around the fire while eating marshmallows, on the next Halloween...
If you would like more chills, check out Italy's haunted castles...