The museum of madness on the Island of San Servolo
From 1.1.2012 to 2.28.2014
Amongst the many museums in Venice, there is a very unusual one: the museum of madness on the Island of San Servolo.
The Island of San Servolo, the former site of a Benedictines convent, became in 1725, a psychiatric hospital, but only for Venetian nobles. Napoleon’s government decreed in 1797 that mentally ill people from all classes had to be interned at San Servolo, a fact that continued under both the Austrian and Savoy reigns.
In 1978 the Basaglia law was passed, which resulted in the closure of psychiatric hospitals. Consequently, the hospital on San Servolo was eventually closed down.
Recently the island has become the site for several university courses, but the memory of the old mental hospital has been preserved with the establishment in 2006 of a museum of madness in one the convent’s wings.
The museum houses an exhibition charting the history of mental illness care over the past three centuries in Venice. You will see chains, handcuffs and straitjackets – used to contain the mentally ill in the 19th century – and also instruments used to cure mental illnesses, such as electroshock machines, or examples of music therapy, which was tried for the first time at San Servolo by Cesare Vigna, the director of the psychiatric hospital and also a close friend of the composer Giuseppe Verdi.
If you wish to visit a small and remote island in the lagoon and a truly unusual museum, take the number 20 ferry from San Zaccaria and get yourself ready for a journey into the world of madness.