Il Grande Manicomio
Located at an undisclosed place in Italy
Photo © 2009 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Manicomio Frigerio* History
A provincial asylum in Northern Italy, formerly a convent, provided a dark and gloomy home for over 400 patients in the late 1800s; the inadequate facility would soon be deemed as a "national disgrace" as the general attitude of psychiatric care shifted in history towards more humane treatment of the mentally ill. In the mid 1800s, a new hospital branch was founded at a beautiful villa located on a scenic hill, housing 150 patients who were led out of the dank wards of the old asylum. It was soon determined that a "grand asylum" be constructed around the villa; in 1878 the old hospital was completely evacuated and over 1,100 patients were transferred here. Even though the institution was a far better place to live than the old asylum, overcrowding was a consistent problem; a capacity of 900 could not support the new one thousand new transfers. Only 9 physicians cared for 1,250 patients in the late 1800s; by the turn of the century the situation only grew worse - there were 10 doctors for about 1,900 patients. The hospital was also criticized for the 18 km distance from the city, making it difficult for staff and visitors to make the long journey.
A new director of the hospital in 1911 was a major turning point in the asylum's history. He dedicated himself to lobby for a new hospital to solve the overcrowding issue; it was not answered, but at the very least the Provincial Council decided to expand the hospital with the construction of new buildings in 1913. An observation building for female patients was erected in 1914, as well as three elegant pavilions built around the old villa in 1915. These halls were of high architectural quality, featuring bright and airy wards which were divided by the criteria of illness - tranquil, agitated, convalescent etc. They were known as Open Halls, for their open-air design and lack of containing walls.
Patient population only rose, especially after World War I, with over 3,500 residents in 1918. Six overflow institutions were used throughout the hospital's lifetime to try and relieve the overcrowding here. Despite these issues, the director fought on to develop innovative programs to rehabilitate patients so they could return to lives outside the hospital. Industrial programs were created for patients to help them utilize skills such as masonry, carpentry, weaving, and other work at the institution provided job skills such as laundry, cooking and housework. Art and music were also provided as therapeutic treatment programs. A farming colony and gardens provided not only occupational therapy and job skills, but also helped make the hospital self-sufficient. An entire aqueduct was also constructed to provide water to not only the hospital, but nearby village as well. In 1962, a new complex was constructed specifically for children who were admitted to the hospital. It was the first child neuropsychiatry service in the entire region.
The passing of Law 180 in 1978 determined the fate of this hospital, like most others in the country, and a complex closing plan would be in effect from 1996 and completed by 1999. Many buildings have been re-purposed for various uses, and still around 150 patients are still cared for in three residential units; however a number of buildings have been left vacant.
* Note: the name "Manicomio Frigerio" is a pseudonym; the real name of this location is currently undisclosed.