MYSTERY PLACES OF THE WORLD: THE PSYCHIATRIC INSTITUTES OF ITALY
THE ASYLUMS OF MADNESS
Many of you will say that ghosts do not exist. But it is possible that many of you will change your mind after knowing not the legends, but what really happened in these madhouses. Perhaps that is scarier than the spirits of the deceased that they say float there.
It is not difficult to intuit the horrors suffered by the thousands of people unjustly confined within the Italian asylums. Lives humiliated and ignored by a hypocritical society that also brazenly boasts of its level of humanity.
The intentions and interests in these madhouses were far from providing a better existence for the people who get there. The therapies that they called “alternatives”, which offered to cure, for example, anger, hysteria or even masturbation, in addition to glasses of mineral water, gymnastics sessions, and sun baths, offered other less innocent therapies, such as drugs, mistreatment and even torture difficult to imagine, but for minds more disturbed than that of the mentally ill themselves.
Difficult to list the innumerable “therapies” and treatments with which they claimed to alleviate and even heal the psychic disorders that these inmates suffered. The treatments were more focused on containing and moderating their behavior considered “inappropriate”, and on which the excuses to abuse and experiment on them rested. In addition, it must be considered that in most cases these mental disorders were non-existent and were mere excuses to “get rid of” some uncomfortable people.
After decades it was admitted that there were “entry errors”, misdiagnoses and negligence, but it took even longer to admit that clinical experimentation was carried out there under torture, physical and psychological abuse, and labor exploitation.
Below we will specify some examples, not to implant more sordidness to what is already a tremendous reality, but to take into account how far the limit of human absurdity can reach, and of vainglory, because this was also in the object of these experiments made “for the good of science. “
Some of those who survived that atrocious experience have been able to describe how they lived those moments and the sensations they caused while applying these therapies to them. According to what they have narrated, in this case while they were being given injections of turpentine, they were tied up, beaten and denigrated so that they did not move.
“They caused excruciating pain for many days. The abscesses were terrible. You wouldn’t even move your eyelashes, so it would hurt less. Before the effects of one injection began to wear off, they would give you another. “
They described with horror the electroshock, who perceived it as a systematic punishment to control them and overpower them.
“ When they said that you were misbehaving, and you didn’t do what they wanted, they would come to look for you and take you to a room. There they tied you up and shocked you. You felt a very strong pain when the electricity penetrated the body. When you were shocked for a few days, you felt like the walking dead. You couldn’t even move. “
All shares in the practice of medicine should be chaired by a principle of justice, of beneficence and non – maleficence. Obviously this was forgotten. That is why it is important to remember mistakes. So that in the present and in the future medicine will strive to provide better care based on scientific evidence entrenched on bioethical principles and codes of ethics capable of respecting human rights.
The doctor was required only after the person had been labeled as “crazy” and when behavior had made problematic on a social level. In fact, there was no distinction between the classification of “crazy” and “criminal”, “tramp” or “disgraceful.”
After learning the true facts, the creepy stories about ghosts told about some Italian madhouses fall short. Without wanting to add more drama, in some cases reality undoubtedly exceeded the invention that some think these stories have.
In these cases the stories have a basis of truth that makes the hair stand on end. And not so much to find the ghostly image of a girl in a nightgown running barefoot through one of the corridors in ruins of a madhouse, but because we can glimpse that terrible things really happened there.
Injustices, violations of rights, humiliations and tortures that caused so much gratuitous, absurd and totally unnecessary suffering to thousands of people, and that perhaps that is why we do not want to forget.
The physical representation of what some create supernatural forces in these places, if not caused by the psychic energy of ethereal entities, at least represent in some way the silenced voice of the deceased who suffered those repudiable torture there.
A side of Italian history, perhaps less well known, but which undoubtedly adds another absurd reality of an increasingly disconcerting society.
PARANORMAL PHENOMENA IN SANATORIUMS
For a long time, doubts about the existence or less of paranormal phenomena have science in a constant challenge. Different cultures and beliefs spread throughout the world continue to keep alive this peculiar psychic component that is as incomprehensible as it is fascinating in traditions, legends and rituals.
There is documented evidence of the existence of paranormal phenomena since ancient times. Science tries to give a scientific explanation to these phenomena that go beyond the well-known physical logic, but they are not ignored, since we could be facing phenomena whose explanation we do not know due to lack of knowledge and technology.
In fact, in 1882 a society for psychic research was already created in London, in which hypnosis, so fashionable in those days, was studied in particular. Later from the International Conference on Parapsychology held in Utrecht in 1953, many countries including Germany, Holland and Russia showed interest in what were called “metaphysics” and created associations and institutes of psychic research, where today they are investigates to give a scientific explanation to paranormal phenomena such as telekinesis and suggestive experiences after death.
Some testimonies claim to have seen ghosts prowling among the ruins of the rooms of some Italian madhouses. Evanescent images of stunned people somehow floating through the walls and disappearing.
Of course, some psychedelic drugs could provoke the effect of seeing hallucinations, in addition to the suggestion that causes mass hysteria, but there are also scientific hypotheses that admit a possible veracity in these strange visions.
Nothing more and nothing less than Eintein’s theory of relativity, space-time relationships, the probability of the existence of parallel worlds and the so fashionable “multiverse” and its interconnection through the current plane with another from the past, they would give a scientific explanation to these phantasmagorical phenomena. According to these hypotheses changes in physics would be allowed.
THE GHOSTS OF THE MOMBELLO INSANITY
Without a doubt one of the most controversial in Italy. Not only because the European Commission on Human Rights declared and confirmed that during its activity of “therapies” considered “against dignity and human rights” had been carried out, but also because the also controversial doctor Ugo Cerlett, the father of the electroshock.
Nowadays the building is abandoned, the remains of its ruins are scattered among a broken vegetation that seems to try with little success to hide the remains of an ambiguous and dark past.
In the years following its final closure in 1983, and after being vandalized and occupied by toxins, it was heavily visited by “ghost hunters” attracted by the lurid stories that were told about it.
Some psychophonies recorded inside the asylum revealed the echoes of a past of suffering and grief, discordant sounds that seemed like atrocious cries and screams. Sounds possibly caused by the interactions of some electrical device located in the vicinity. But also, according to believers, these signs could also have been caused by the presence in the environment of a strong psychic charge. Energy emitted by the severely mistreated and evicted people who lived so badly there, whose voices and screams are repeated in time because they are trapped there between the walls.
LIFE INSIDE THE MOMBELLO ASYLUM
Also known as the Giuseppe Antonini de Limbiate psychiatric hospital, it was opened in 1865, a year after a stone wall of three meters high and almost two km in perimeter (1,997 m.) Was built around it that surrounded the entire complex, which indicated that far from being a safe place where one could be relieved of a supposed mental illness, it was a place of isolation and seclusion.
In reality, the Mombello was prepared as a branch of the Senavra asylum in Milan, to “urgently” accommodate the surplus patients of the Senavra, which was crowded with inmates, of which the psychiatrist Andrea Verga said “is a national disgrace.”
In general, with the exception of some poorly calculated, they were located in geographical places with a healthy climate. In fact, some of them had initially been hospitals for chronic and long-term diseases, such as tuberculosis, where the healthy air of the countryside undoubtedly contributed to a better and faster recovery.
The Mombello, is located in the Lombardy region, north of Italy, in the province of Monza and Brianza, in a town called Limbiate, today its ruins rest in silence. Echoes of a stormy past, which transports us to a past reality in seclusion and suffering.
The Mombello asylum was built on the foundations of the Villa Pusterla-Crivelli, a medieval construction from 1754, from the distant 18th century, which was occupied by Napoleon in 1797, within an impressive plot of land of fields and hills that he acquired for proclaim one of his many conquests in Italy. After several reforms and extensions, construction was completed in 1878, the year in which it was officially inaugurated.
Initially, the existing small church wasalso used for religious ceremonies, then in 1935 a new larger church was built, with greater capacity, that of San Ambrosio in a romantic style, which mostly satisfied the space requirements caused by the constant increase of patients.
As we have said previously in another article on Italian psychiatric sanatoriums, at the end of the 19th century, the reported situation of overcrowding and poor conditions within the asylums led to the creation of Law 36, which was intended to correct this situation. So the new directors of the Mombello of the late ‘800 and the early’ 900 introduced new reforms in accordance with the new guidelines.
The activity of the Mombello began with the transfer in 1878 of more than 1,100 inmates from the Senavra. From then on, all the sick in the province of Milan also went to the Mombello.
The Mombello pretended to be far from those horrible criticisms that were said about the other mental hospitals, it longed to be at the forefront, so little by little within those walls a microcosm began to develop, which pretended to be an example for everyone.
In 1820 a management of subdivision of spaces and interns began to be introduced. The various buildings and structures of the Mombello were destined for different uses. Some dedicated exclusively to medical personnel, such as experimental laboratories, medical library, etc. and other blocks for the exclusive use of inpatients.
In addition to the bedrooms, toilets, dining rooms, bakery, laundry, for common use, there were also special rooms where the so-called “occupational therapy” or ergotherapy was exercised, the scientific name with which they liked to call unpaid working hours. They initially consisted of craft and sewing workshops, which were later also included in gardening, another occupation highly promoted by the institute’s management, which were carried out in the large extensions of orchards and gardens that surrounded the buildings.
The patients were divided according to their mental state into 4 groups, tranquil, agitated, dirty and hard-working. The “chains” that had long been used to immobilize the inmates were replaced by the straps and the famous straitjacket. To the purges, and barbiturate drugs already known, another therapy was added, hydrotherapy, with baths and showers.
A new concept, introduced the “moral cure” of the patient, on the basis that the madness was nothing more than a mess on feelings, on the will and the passions. So the work of the asylum was to redirect the patient to the order of reason, making them internalize the social rules through the so-called “pedagogy of reeducation”, which consisted of having reason implanted through the imposition of a system of rewards and punishments based on behavior. The necessary condition to be readmitted to society was to respect the law and established social rules.
The figure of the director acquired essential importance, they represented an indisputable and disciplinary authority, nothing was done without their consent. They intended to instill in the inmates an idea of authority and dissertation. The director wanted to ingrain in the sick minds of their inmates, that moral education that they had rejected, which is why they were there.
Such was the need to make the world aware of the prosperity and optimization that they were doing in the mental institution that in 1880 a magazine was created within the asylum, “La Gazzetta del Manicomio”, which was published until 1905. It was printed every two months and shipped free to all municipalities in Milan. It could also be received comfortably at home by prior subscription. In the magazine, various articles were published on the activities carried out in the intern, and on how the different dependencies were managed, such as the bakery, with which they also participated in 1887 in the International Exhibition of Bakery Appliances.
This participation internationally highlighted Mombello’s commitment to the importance of hygiene and pellagra (curiously a specialty of one of the psychiatrists who would be the director of Mombello years later). Records of new admissions were also reported regularly, and even deaths that had occurred were reported. In 1908, 4 “open” pavilions were installed, another one of the “innovative therapies” only for peaceful inmates, that is, without walls, in a pine forest near the asylum, with 100 beds each.
Between 1911 and 1931, the new director Giuseppe Antonini (already alluded to, who had founded in 1901, the famous “Italian Pellagrologica Magazine” published until 1923) collected and continued the reforms begun by the previous directors, carrying out and introducing new initiatives that aimed to improve andfurther optimize the general conditions of the madhouse.
Driven by the enthusiasm of the new promotion and the privileges provided by Law 36 of 1904, he introduced new ideas and made several changes in the management of the asylum with which he was highly recognized.
He ordered the construction of an innovative aqueduct that allowed water to be transported directly into the enclosure, and which also supplied the town of Limbiate. He also made a small railway to transport the goods. And finally he established a separate department for children. In addition, he introduced various recreational activities, such as gymnastics, music to calm down, theater and dance, even building a small theater inside the madhouse, called the “theater of the crazy”.
It was both the interest of innovation on hygiene (also dental), occupational therapy, research on new therapies of cures, etc. of the new direction that even the local newspapers reported on their therapeutic progress.
A whole microcosm, where apparently nothing was missing. Despite the efforts of the successive directions to make that human place appear, within its walls there was another reality ignored by the growing hypocrisy of society, that of lives unjustly secluded.
In 1913 the Mombello was saturated with inmates and approximately 100 inmates had to be transferred to the Villa Litta Modignani in Affori, a building of Baroque architecture built in 1687 by a marquis, which for years was used as the summer residence of the Milan nobility.
Thus in 1905 the town temporarily became a place of recovery for the mentally ill who were left over from other psychiatric hospitals. After the WW1, the maintenance of the gardens was left in the hands of the alcoholics of the now definitive asylum. That is why the beautiful gardens that still exist have been called ” la cà d’i matt ” and “the garden of the madmen “. During WWII, it continued to host homeless refugees, completely removing from its walls the last vestiges of lavishness that remained from the ‘700.
During World War I two of the “free” pavilions of the Mombello were used as makeshift war hospitals for the military. And soldiers affected by the psychological trauma caused by the horrors of war began to arrive. In a short time the so-called Veneto pavilion was crowded with deranged minds, hosting more than 250 soldiers and refugees. Of the 635 soldiers that the Mombello hosted during the period of the war, only 517 were released, the rest were interned in the asylum.
The therapies for the soldiers were somewhat different than those used for the other inmates, they used psychotherapeutic methods such as rest, a diet rich in calories to increase body weight, and “freedom” therapy, that is, the use of the straitjacket, so common to the rest of the inmates.
Obviously, the use of the Mombello as a military psychiatric hospital also spread during other conflicts, such as the Battle of Caporetto, and World War II.
The overpopulationwas a constant problem, which only found some relief when some inmates were distributed to smaller centers in nearby towns such as Busto Arsizio and Parbiago, where the latter was transferred to women.
Over the years to come, the ambiguous “scientific cabinets,” as they were called, or pathology and biology laboratories in the Mombello asylum, raised many questions about the unorthodox methods used within the structure. The department of “experimental” psychology within the Mombello, first led by Giuseppe Corberi and then by Ugo Cerletti , the latter known for having invented the electroshock, was full of legends and stories terrible about experiments and mutilations carried out under torture and suffering.
Because of the agglomeration in Mombello, at the beginning of ‘900 the province of Milan bought a piece of land in the Affori district, on the outskirts of Milan. With the intention of building ex novo a building as a branch of the Mombello that was already overflowing. Originally in 1923 it was called “Grande astantería manicomiale di Affori “, later also called Villa Fiorita and others.
For economic reasons, they initially decided to leave the management of the new institute to a private company. Thus, those who could afford the monthly payment of 500 lire could intern there and not the already oversaturated Mombello. Thus was born Villa Fiorita, with a capacity for 300 patients. Later the province would pick up its management again.
The scandal reached the extreme when in 1931 the Mombello together with the also controversial Psychiatric Institute, or “House of cure for the alienated and for the nervous patients” of Affori, in Milan, in which precisely the aforementioned Ugo Cerletti collaborated, created an agreement to create a “university” department within the Mombello, the so-called “University Clinic for mental illnesses” that operated until 1943, whose “objective was to provide patients” to be studied at the Milan Clinic for Nervous and Mental Diseases founded in 1918, whose director then was Carlo Besta.
Today the IRCCS Instituto Neurologico Carlo Besta Foundation exists in Milan, it has nothing to do with the one back then. It belongs to the ERN, the European reference network for craniofacial anomalies and otorhinolaryngolátric diseases, and neurological pathologies. Treats all types of neurological diseases from Parkinson’s, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spinocerebral diseases, to language and learning difficulties, and autism.
Cerletti worked within the Mombello Institute from 1919 to 1924 as director of the department of “experimental psychology”, and in the following years he continued his collaboration from the outside. Later in 1938 according to official data, Cerletti used electroshock for the first time in a human (year in which he was still collaborating with the Mombello and Carlo Besta’s clinic), using a rudimentary device created for this purpose that he invented together with his assistant Lucio Bini. He had previously experienced it in dogs and other animals.
Through the experiments carried discovered (according to him), a substance “Revitalizing”, which called agonina. According to him, the repeated convulsions caused by the electrical discharges in the body of the unfortunate patient, caused the production in the brain of this substance, which was beneficial for them. The electro-convulsive therapy in his experience was more effective in patients with epileptics attacks. Cerletti and Bini were nominated for the Nobel Prize.
Among other notorious characters, in 1935 Benito Albino Dalser, illegitimate son of Mussolini, was unjustly interned at the Mombello for not having renounced his kinship with the well-known dictator. The documents revealed that he had been induced into a coma with multiple doses of insulin, a hormone commonly used to treat schizophrenia. Benito Albino died in 1942 seven years after joining the Mombello.
In the years following World War II, began the decline of the Mombello, administration Milan had decided to favor economically Institute Affori and in 1945 shifted the subsidies that were previously aimed at the Mombello was the clinic of Carlo Besta.
The Mombello accommodated up to 3,000 inmates, being the largest and highest capacity asylum ever in Italy. It even admitted more than 30,000 inmates throughout its activity, which lasted until 1983, the year in which it was dismantled during Alberto Madeddu’s leadership and was closed in the same year due to the entry of Law 180.
THE MOMBELLO CONTROVERSIES CONTINUE
Since it closed in 1983, controversies surrounding the Mombello have not stopped emerging. As early as 1900 some studies were made on some of the post mortem remains. Specifically in hairs on the head, toxicological analyzes revealed a high concentration of barbiturate substances, such as cocaine, nicotine and caffeine.
Controversy over the dubious methods and therapies used in the Mombello asylum led the European Commission for Human Rights to carry out an investigation in 1979. After completing the investigations and inspection of the records, documents, laboratories and other facilities, the commission concluded that in the Mombello asylum most of the treatments that had been carried out there were ” contrary to dignity and human rights”, declaring them illegitimate, unjustified and abusive.
As also happened in the other Italian asylums, all this “progress” was just a facade. At the Mombello, both sick and “healthy” people had been unjustly admitted. Their rights and freedoms had been denied andtheir dignity as human beings had been ignored. The inmates had been treated without respect, systematically using humiliating methods and torture with the aim of being manipulated and used in clinical experimentation.
Despite all those “innovations” in facilities, management and even recreational facilities. The reality was different. They were not nourished adequately and hygiene was poor, there were not enough or qualified personnel to guarantee the slightest hygiene requirements. Inmates were exploited in unpaid work. The mistreatment and abuse, both physical and psychological, were called re-education. And torture was practiced within that clinical experimentation, in the so-called therapies or treatments, such as the inoculation of pathological germs, injections of drugs and other substances, lobotomies, electroshock, torture with water and steam, immobilization, isolation, friction with substances irritants, etc.
The therapies used were inappropriate, totally unjustified, and egregious. Although at the time they were recognized as an advance in medicine and some even touched the Nobel. They did not correspond to an ethical criterion that seeks the well – being of the person, but on the contrary, it caused harm and suffering, and they were clearly an aberration, on which they fed only to progress in their hypocritical claim.
In the Mombello laboratories they found mutilated bodies, whose limbs had been preserved in jars, specifically, 50 brains, various whole heads, legs, arms, hands and internal organs, in addition to 12 whole bodies.
CURIOSITIES OF THE MOMBELLO
One of them is that the famous Mombello hospital made a fleeting appearance of just 4 seconds, in the final scene of the film 7 days, 7 girls, whose protagonist is the peculiar Johnny Depp. The film was presented at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017.
In 2015 four boys got lost in the subways, they had to be rescued by firefighters.
THE “POLTERGEIST” OF THE VILLA SBERTOLI SANATORIUM
The poltergeists in the Villa Sbertoli madhouse make noise. strange strums outside the physical laws that are supposedly caused by the entities that roam there, but also piano chords are heard, and music especially on some summer nights in which the heat takes away sleep.
Today Villa Sbertolli is an abandoned mansion caught in the vegetation that tries in vain to hide the evidence of its stormy past. It is inevitable not to feel grim and repellent when seeing the electroshock machines still present in a room. And open books, dirty medical records, torn and scattered on the floor. Medical utensils, jars and those horrible beds with iron bars.
It is said that shortly after the Sbertoli family moved into the residence they had bought, their young son began to show signs of having a mental disorder. It was then that he decided to open in his own residence a “House of cure for the mentally ill”. He thought that with his direct cures and by keeping his son in the same family environment where he was born, his son’s quality of life would be higher and perhaps he would find a cure for his madness.
That is why the villa presents in its interior an architecture typical of a luxury residence in contrast to less pleasant and more disturbing environments that show the other dark side of the confinement.
With his knowledge in psychiatry Sbertoli tried to find a cure for his son, but after several unsuccessful attempts and therapies the boy died. It was then that he decided to expand the sanatorium.
A haunted residence is retained because what happens there does not enter the known physical normality. Inexplicable noises, strange smells, movements of objects and even physical friction.
According to parapsychology, these events are generated by entities or ghosts of the dead. But they can also be caused by an unconscious telekinesis derived from the stress or emotional tension that these places generate.
The ruins of the Villa Tanzi, also known for the great extension of built estate, can be seen from the city of Pistoia. A true and proper town that for a long time was a madhouse. Now it attends desolate and full of “ghosts” of its former occupants, who flutter vaporous through corridors from one cell to another. A long avenue of cypress trees invites access to the two main main estates.
HOW IT WAS TO LIVE INSIDE THE SBERTOLI MENTAL HOME
The original structure is made up of two large main buildings that were built in the 17th century. The main entrance door leads to a small street called Via Solitaria. Its name already foreshadowed where it would lead.
In 1868 itwas bought by Agostino Sbertoli, aprestigious psychiatrist, initially as a family residence, later in 1876 Sbertoli wanted to manage his own “House of wellness” (he had been working as a psychiatrist in other Italian asylums), and turned it into a health center private mental for wealthy families. From there it took the old name “House of wellness” as we say, and later Villa Sbertoli.
His first patient was a 29-year-old young man, he was admitted on March 18, 1868, he was originally from Florence and suffered from epilepsy. Just one year later in 1880, many other patients from all over Europe joined. They were relatives of wealthy families attracted by the notoriety that the sanitarium was acquiring. After Sbertoli’s death in 1898, his son Nino Sbertoli , also a psychiatrist, continued the great expansion that his father had started, an expansion that required more than 25 structures.
The patients were assigned to a ward according to their social condition, type of behavior (agitated, tranquil, dirty and hardworking) and illness.
As in other Italian asylums, various “alternative” therapies were applied in addition to the usual ones with narcotics and baths, even less laughable, such as the use of electricity (electroshock), ice hydrotherapy on the head, leeches and the fearsome vesicants on the head, and in the anus. Full-blown torture that caused untold suffering.
The latter consisted of the use of chemical compounds on the skin that caused severe chemical burns and blisters, very painful. They were also used to experiment on their “interesting” ability to increase skin sensitivity and vision (photosensitivity). In fact, these compounds have been used in wars as chemical weapons, since they cause severe burns to the skin and eyes.
During the WW2(1943-1944) the city of Pistoia suffered three strong air attacks, then the authorities decided to transfer the prisoners from the Pistoia prison to Villa Sbertolli.
A few months later in 1944 a group of partisans, attackedthebuildings and released to 54 men and 3 women, including 3 that were Jews.
In 1951 itwas made for public use and was open until its closure in 1978.
THE MYSTERIOUS NUN OF THE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL OF VOLTERRA
They say that imagination can give you a hard time. That may be what happens in the Volterra asylum. Or maybe not.
According to science some sound waves of particularly low frequency in the vitreous parts of the eye may result inthe sensation of activity in the surrounding environment. The image of the nun could respond to this phenomenon. Obviously, not all people are susceptible to picking up this low frequency. But it could give an explanation to the visions that some people say they have seen.
VOLTERRA: A JAIL WITH OPEN DOORS
In addition to being known for being a “vampire land,” Volterra has a protagonist who has long been a cause of horror not only for its financial scandals, but for its strange deaths. This is the madhouse that was opened in 1887.
It is located in an abandoned farm near the bridge in Elsa, Volterra, a town in the Tuscany region of the province of Pisa, like other areas of the place has an Etruscan past that dates back to the Iron Age.
As others in Italy had previously been a hospice for the poorest beggars inthe community, its construction was the largest event until the end of the 19th century, it was even recognized on June 5, 1884 as a “moral entity”, and as we will see it brought a lot of work and economic benefit to the community of Volterra.
In 1887, as we say, it opened its doors to the first 30 inmates, who were quickly sent to 500 from the San Niccolò Hospital in Siena, which was already saturated like many others at that time and had increased the daily payment to 1.50 lire precisely to decrease the influx of sick people there.
A price competition started. According to Volterra, the price that they asked the municipalities in charge of paying the cost of their patients (because the assistance was public) was excessive. After several attempts, they achieved a more convenient agreement that benefited both public entities and Volterra because in this way they would send more patients there, which was cheaper for them, and it would also attract “private” patients who paid on their behalf. And they accepted the daily quota of 1 lira. Thus the Congregation of Charity of Volterra accepted the commission and created a section for the insane in the old asylum.
A year later they moved the elderly to make room for the insane who were increasing in number. In 1890 theyhad to rent anearby residencein Papignano to accommodate everyone. In 1897 the “Insane Asylum” wasofficially opened.
During the leadership of Luigi Scabia, a significant change occurred, an overly productive and prosperous time that raised doubts about his management. It began in 1902 with the arrival on a special train of a “batch” of new inmates. Going from 282 patients in 1900 to 4,794 inmates in 1939.
New pavilions and internal streets were built, always with the idea of creating a borough avoiding the symmetry of the buildings. The pavilions were named after illustrious scholars of the time, such as the Ferri, which we will discuss later.
Like others in Italy, an aqueduct, lighting and even a benzene gas generator were created. The “ergotherapy” of which we have spoken before, the work therapy, was the base onwhich the prosperity of the asylum was supported and the possibility of charging a lower price for the assistance.
But the idea that appeared was that of an autonomous town where the patient did not have to feel locked up. In fact there were no walls, although the doors and windows with bars were locked every night and there was a tight control of departures and arrivals.
The inmates worked inside various mansions according to their abilities, not only manual jobs such as agriculture and making shoes and clothes, but also intellectuals, such as accounting. They worked distributed in the different divisions, carpentry, clothing manufacture, bakery, slaughterhouse, laundry, manufacture of iron utensils and crystals, even had a special oven for the manufacture of bricks, which they used for various uses and construction needs. Two agricultural-livestock farms managed by two families outside the institute, supplied the asylum with agricultural and livestock products, where the inmates provided free labor and the center also received compensation for vegetables and fruits, geese and rabbits as well as economical one.
In 1933 theyhad 70,988 oftheir own coins manufactured in Florence with which to “pay back” the work they did, with which the sick could buy things inside the asylum’s commissary, which was part of the “self-financing” therapy.
It had its own postal service where the sick could send letters to their relatives or friends. The recreation was also seen as therapy became very popular the “Carnival of Fools” where inmates with skills recitation and dance entertained the public (pre – paid admission, as they did in other European asylums who were paid a penny for looking at through the cells of the insane and entertain themselves by seeing their “antics”), medical personnel and the rest of the inmates.
After a few years, the economic prosperity was palpable. The doubts and ambiguity about the management exercised by Scabia was put into discussion. It was evident that the so-called “work therapy”, which he promoted so much, which from the beginning was established to compensate for the low daily fee, lower than the rest of the asylums in Italy, had contributed to reducing expenses and increasing income, which of course they were not intended for a better quality of life for the inmates, but for the director and the “healthy” external employees who worked there as health personnel, many from the same town of Volterra and its surroundings.
A procedure that many identified as “abuse and systematic use of free labor.” The excessive “entrepreneurship” and the lack of scruples of Scabia was widely criticized. Inmates worked for free, so it was not only unfair and abusive but immoral given their vulnerability.
The whole facade that the patient was not forced there because there were no walls and that few privileged were sometimes allowed to go to the cinema or the village bar, or to teach children from peasant families to read or write to promote social reintegration it was a hoax and another ploy to keep the inmates psychologically subdued.
In fact, Scabia himself recognized that work therapy ” only worked inside the asylum, and not outside.” Because society wouldalways “highlight the condition of being “crazy” and the efficacy of the therapy would be nullified”.
The inmates were paid with their own currency that was not valid outside, and when they needed some money in lira to pay for a purchase or the cinema in the town, something that happened exceptionally was only in the custody of the “guardians” and as a reward for some “special” favor that leaves to free interpretation.
Therefore, those exceptional cases of social reintegration when someone went to the cinema or to teach to read, were only an activity done on purpose to appear like this, controlled by the management of the asylum and not a true opportunity for reintegration into society.
It was criticized that the custody system ” does not restrainct ” as touted by the director. The reality was different, it was a system as rigid as it was aggressive, despite not having walls. The physical and psychological violence that was applied to the inmates annulled their will, self-esteem, identity and autonomy, becoming abusive, unjust and morally unacceptable.
The hierarchical pyramidal structure on which the management of the sanitary personnel of the asylum was based (that is, each one responded only to the people on whom they depended directly), reinforced a typical police regime of prisons, whose primary one had control of everything.
The Volterra was actually a jail with open doors, which exerted its seclusion not only in the facilities but inside the minds of the people who were there as patients. It was revealed that the tasks of the nurses were not related to the health care of the sick, but that they were mere “guardians and superiors”, as the inmates should call them, who also used abuse, immobilization with straps and straitjackets, isolation, drugs and other therapies of doubtful clinical efficacy.
The inmates were being instrumentalized and used, in reality they were physically and psychologically forced to carry out the orders given.
Even the post office was fictitious, since 1978 the letters that the inmates sent waiting to be received and read by the recipients, had never been sent by post, but had been put as one more page in the medical cards of each patient.
Next to the Ferri, there was the division dedicated to tuberculosis, the Maragliano, where in 1948 they opened a section also for minors, where 500 children wereadmitted to ” re-educate” them. According to the testimonies, the unending and perpetual screams and cries of the young tenants were daily.
The mini bathtubs found inside the structure testify to the presence of the small and innocent guests that this madhouse had, children abandoned for one reason or another, most of whom surely did not have any type of mental illness and were destined to live in seclusion, without affection, care or protection.
Then came its decline and its final closure.
CURIOSITIES ABOUT THE VOLTERRA
Some inmates of the asylum (initially 6 and later another 6, paid with a negligible tip) were used in the first archaeological excavations carried out in Volterra where they later discovered the Roman Theater so visited today by tourists.
The first significant contact that the inmates of the Volterra mental institution had with reality was during an initiative sponsored by the city council in 1973, called precisely “Volterra ’73”.
It was an artistic manifestation carried out inside the madhouse in which some Italian and foreign artists participated. The initiative attracted architects, sculptors and painters who turned the madhouse for at least the short time the initiative lasted, into an art laboratory. However, this attempt at social reintegration was not well received by the management of the asylum, which, reluctant to change, broke ties once it was finished.
NOF, are the initials with which Nannetti Oreste Fernando, an inmate of the asylum who arrived in Volterra in 1958, signed. He had been transferred from the Santa Maria della Pietà psychiatric hospital in Rome to the Ferri ward, also called “judicial”, after an outrage against the official public and not because he was “crazy”. There began his misfortune that would only end with the coming into force of Law 180.
The “artistic work” of NOF or “marginal art” as they called the creations of the interned artists, was printed on the external walls of that pavilion, 180 meters long. Today it is a work of “art-brut” recognized even internationally and which is Volterra’s artistic heritage.
His “masterpiece” consists of a series of annotations and writings where he recorded the strange deaths that according to him occurred inside the asylum.
Now these writings are deteriorating and fading. When they were still intact, the Losanna Museum of art-brut decoded it and made a copy. Today on the Ferri wall there is only a visible piece of his “work”.
THE PARANORMAL PHENOMENA OF AGUSCELLO SANATORIUM IN FERRARA
In Ferrara in the province of Bologna, there is something special for the most curious who are interested in something different than the already so many historical monuments. It is in Aguscello, a town better known for its mysteries and legends than for any other fact, and that is why it attracts special visitors, the tourism of the occult. And here is one of the most infested houses in Italy, Aguscello’s madhouse.
It is perhaps one of the Italian madhouses with the most secrets and mysteries that exists. There are two versions of the events that are related to a single fact that has actually occurred and documented, that of an arson, which constitute the basis of the terrifying stories that are told about the vicissitudes that the occupants of this private house had. Stories that make the hair stand on end even the most skeptical.
According to what they say, it was a massacre allegedly carried out by little Filippo Erni, barely 12 years old and suffering from schizophrenia, and his subsequent suicide by defenestration. His room today shows a desolate aspect and a terrible memory of that access of uncontrolled “madness”.
In fact the orbs in some photographs and video images show what appears to be the figure of a blond boy with messy hair and approximately 10 or 12 years old. It is not known if they are the result of a hoax or indeed they show the ghostly image of the real Filippo Erni.
There are several versions of what supposedly happened, it is not even certain whether little Filippo really existed, since his name is not found by any official record. But it is also possible that its existence wanted to be hidden on purpose, precisely because of the seriousness of the event and the scandal it caused.
Although what Filippo did was terrible, even more disturbing was what the nuns who were caring for the children supposedly did.
The legend that Filippo was tired of the rigid impositions, mistreatment and abuse that nuns applied to him and the other children from the school. That night he was particularly offended and angry, he had been publicly humiliated and none of his companions did anything to defend him. At night while the others slept someone spoke to him in his head. In a fit of “madness” he got up and threw himself at the boy who was sleeping in the next bed. The bewildered screams of the other children alerted the guard nun who was sleeping in a nearby room. When Filippo arrived he was repeatedly hitting the other boy’s bloody face with his joined fists. The lifeless bodies of other children were scattered around the room. Filippo had killed them. The nuns locked Filippo in one of the isolation cells on the highest floor of the asylum, where they separated the most dangerous and aggressive inmates.
It is said that the child, invaded by a feeling of despair and overwhelm, ran barefoot screaming through the room from one side to the other, in one of these he threw himself towards the window and thunderously breaking the glass he rushed into the void. The fall inevitably led to the death of Filippo. It is said that after this event the nuns decided to close their service in that asylum and devised a strategy to silence all the possible testimonies that had been testimonies of the tragedy. They did not want to be criticized about the care and rules they imparted to the children, so they decided to lock all the inmates upstairs and set the building on fire with everyone inside.
Another version tells that there was a serious viral epidemic that led some hospitalized children to death. The nuns, fearful that the epidemic could also infect their medical personnel, locked up all the infected inmates and the other ones too, upstairs for some time, leaving them to die without assistance or food or water. Then they decided to set it on fire to eliminate the possible contagion of the epidemic. Later they would bury the remains in a mass grave to remove the evidence, and they left the asylum without explanation.
They say poltergeists are aggressive here. The blows are strong and forceful, perhaps as were its occupants. But what frightens the most are the visions ofthose children with disfigured faces running desperately through the corridors immersed in flames, which some say they have seen among the ruins.
There are several scientific explanations for these paranormal phenomena. The vision of inanimate objects in movement could respond to an optical effect that occurs in the vitreous humor of the eye of some people susceptible to very low wave frequencies.
The hypothesis that a connection between various parallel dimensions is possible or that some electromagnetic or gravitational forces can move objects are also other hypotheses under study.
But there is always the question of the “supernatural. ” Something that escapes our logic but that somehow persists in us for some reason. Perhaps because we feel guilty about the horrible nature of some human beings. Perhaps that is why we try to do “justice” by remembering the ignoble consciences of those who were capable of carrying out those atrocities.
SURVIVING IN AGUSCELLO’S ASYLUM
A house born as a private residence, later used as a hospital for tuberculosis patients, and later transformed into a place of horrors.
In the official archives dating back to 1870 of the Ferrara provincial committee we can find the documents that testify to its historical past, when the plot of land in a public flagpole was bought and the building built after several owners in 1940, thanks to Dr. Giovanni Bernardi and his wife Amelia Guerra, was transformed into a hospital for tuberculosis patients.
It was sold to the Italian Red Cross, and became a psychiatric hospital for children under 13 years of age.
There are many uncertainties during this period of management, and especially due to its improvised abandonment in 1970. The local voices collect many macabre events that occurred within those walls, but there are also official sources, written documentation belonging to the structure such as clinical records that they are kept in the archives of Ferrara.
The voices tell chilling, horrible events that occurred in the 30 years of activity of the asylum. But they are not only voices, there are testimonies that they lived in those years, which have narrated very serious physical and mental torture. And they even used the children to use them as objects for experimentation.
For years there has been a clear will on the part of the authorities to hide these events, to eliminate the traces that allowed us to rebuild the way of working of the doctors and the health and educational personnel who cared for these children.
THE SAN NICCOLO MENTAL INSTITUTION
Now it is the San Niccolò Palace, a historic building in Siena located near the Roman Gate, but before it was a monastery and in 1762 it became the “House of the Fools”, so called for almost a hundred years (1818-1999) it changed its name, calling itself a Psychiatric Hospital.
The Conolly pavilion inside the structure is what attracts the most attention, it is a panopticon. It is one of the two examples that exist in Italy. The other is in the San Stefano prison onthe island of Ventotene.
The enclosure in the form of a panottico or panopticon allows a single guard to see all the subjects that are in the lower part, without them warning of being observed. The word panottico, comes from Argo Panoptes of Greek mythology, a giant with 100 eyes considered an excellent guardian. The idea allows for an “invisible power”, a metaphor that has inspired many thinkers, writers and philosophers.
In the world there are others, always prisons, in Colombia in the Ibaguè prison, in Birmingham in the United Kingdom, on the Isle of Youth in Cuba, where Fidel Castro was imprisoned, which was also a psychiatric hospital and today a museum. Originally intended for the isolation of the most seriously ill.
The Conolly of Siena became in the ‘900 part of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Siena. Today most of them are silent ruins where only the memory of the thousands of unfortunate and forgotten lives that lived between those walls lies.
Also in those times when the atmosphere of segregation and abandonment was still open was as hopelessly oppressive and distressing as it is now. It was hard to be happy, unless you were like Maria. She had an unusual smile on her lips and was always ready to enthusiastically tell the many interesting stories of her life.
Maria had been diagnosed witha particular pathology, a delusion of grandeur. Her great imagination quickly made anyone who listened to her enter her particular universe where great personalities and events plunged listeners into a profound silence of curiosity and expectation.
Maria’s personality hid great secrets and underground notes capable of igniting curiosity even in the psychiatrist of the asylum, who attentively noted each particular of her “imaginary experiences” in his medical record, now kept in the archives.
When Maria entered the asylum in 1889, she was not the only patient who had “airs of greatness”, another patient with paralyzed “bracesi” (that was what they called dementia in the past) had signed in his medical record as: “Edmondo Napoleone Bonaparte Weys di Savoia Cargnam Imperatore e Messia. ” It seemed that not entirely satisfied with his already princely and Napoleonic genealogy, he was also Messiah.
Maria’s delusion of grandeur was a diverse example, as it had been diagnosed as an “intellectual monomania”, obsessed with a single idea. Disorder today so widespread among the “healthy” but often undiagnosed population.
Maria Sandroni, who was her real name came to San Niccolò on april 13 of the 1889, 31 years old. She had been by profession a waitress and a condition of “poor” origin. She had originally lived in Cecina but had traveled half of Italy for her work. The anamnesis is very rich in detail, her father was “nervous and angry”, her mother was “melancholic”, an aunt suffered from seizures.
When she turned 17 shewas sent to her brother who lived in Florence. But he sent her to work abroad, to serve in the homes of families far from him, thus removing himself from the duty of supporting her.
Because of a “passion for love” that probably distracted her from her work, the landlady fired her. She found other jobs in Rome, Bibbona, and later in Cecina, but they always ended up firing her. She never managed to keep a job, because according to the doctor, “her head went up with thoughts of more or less imaginary love that distracted her from her work.”
When she arrived at the Siena asylum her pathology was in a particular and flowery moment. The stories she told were structured with an incredible amount of cultural details and the political situation of that time that surprised even the doctor, given her uneducated origin.
In her first colloquium, Maria tells the psychiatric doctor that “she had been proclaimed a Saint and that for that reason her most pure body could not be possessed by more than a king or prince of royal blood.”
Furthermore, at that time “a burning love with the Prince of Naples was in progress,” which was the title with which the heir to the throne of the House of Savoia was then identified. In 1889 the King of Italy was Umberto I and the heir who would later succeed him in 1900 was Vittorio Emanuele, precisely Prince of Naples of Mary.
According to her, King Umberto was not opposed to this relationship and had not forbidden a future marriage, so Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples and future king, exchanged his love for Mary.
As expected, the obstacles according to Mary came from Pope Leone XIII, who was seeking an alliance with France to reestablish the Pontifical kingdom. To do this, he secretly offered tohave Prince Vittorio married to a French princess, and not to Maria. For this reason, according to Mary, Pope Leone XIII hated her and, unable to take away her sanctity, with which she was endowed, had her locked up in the asylum saying that she was crazy.
According to her, the prince has always loved her and still loved her. She said that after several days of being interned in Pisa, the prince even visited her in the asylum with his majesty King Umberto, the father, and made her get out of bed and the three of them talked together kindly for a while. “
Before these fantastic love affairs in their first conversation, the doctor could not do more than listen and try not to interfere, since any attempt to cement reality in the patient could be harmful.
The doctor in her second and third meeting, begins to update her onthe fact that she was inside the center. Maria seems to recede into reality, but it only lasts a moment. She immediately stops and quickly gets back into her world.
“In fact, she affirms that she would accept to marry a certain Bibbona, of more modest origin, and even Bencini, both suitors who had “hit on” her. Then she changes her tone and explains how her current privileged role in European politics has allowed her to prevent the war between France and Italy. “
During the internment, María shows herself a modest, calm and even humble person. She does not create particular management problems, her “airs of greatness” are only activated when someone encourages her to speak. Then she enters her imaginary world again and begins an endless logorrhea that she does not accept to be interrupted for a moment.
Maria’s internal conflict is similar to what Freud would describe only after a few years, as “family romance.”
Patients affected by this syndrome create a life parallel to their own “romance”, a consequence of not having found in real life, not even in family (parents and brother), anyone who loved and appreciated her as she was. The lack of affection had formed such a large gap that only the imagination could fill. Her mind needed to create an escape, thus discarding the path of depression, and experimenting with a more complicated method, that of fantasy.
And if you can imagine, why set limits? Maria must have thought. Better to do it grandiosely. Being Saint and placing herself at the center of European politics of that time and aspiring to the best “party” in Italy, the Crown Prince.
It is endearing to see Maria’s attempt to save herself through fantasy.
For the next 10 years, Maria’s dream becomes quiet as she loses that gift of inventiveness that so fascinated her listeners. No one hears her speak anymore, no one asks her anything, and then Maria’s story inexorably faded into the depth of the anonymity of that madhouse.
We are in 1898, in the last entry in her medical record hementions that Maria would be transferred to the Volterra begging hospice (already mentioned in this article), precisely when a price competition existed between the two asylums.
The Siena asylum had raised the prices of its daily quota to 1.50 lire, and Volterra, which was beginning to launch itself in the market for cures, insisted on not increasing by 1 lire. So many patients who were in Siena, were transferred to Volterra where the government of the provinces in charge of supporting the cost of the cures spent less.
It is not known if Maria was cured and stopped telling “lies”. Because it seems that’s what her illness was about. But who has never told a little lie? Maybe Maria started like this, little by little, out of a psychological need, for affection, which she had been denied. And she became distracted in that game as exciting as it was addicted. Artifice and lies transported her to an unreal world, but those emotions were the only ones that made her feel loved and cherished by the world.
In that madhouse were the stories of Mary, stories of her holiness, her important royal friendships and love secrets. Today we remember them to give testimony that behind each sick inmate and the ones not so, there had always been a person. With feelings, affections and emotions like anyone else, who just wanted to be treated humanely.
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