It finally happened. I snapped, and needed to get to the asylum asap!
Actually, I’m kidding. But for a while yesterday I thought I might lose my marbles. I was joining a very sophisticated Florentine educational institution for a guided tour of the old grounds of Florence’s historic psychiatric hospital and it seemed as if fate was against my plan. (Maybe she thought they would keep me if I got there?). It took 2 buses and a taxi to get me to a place I could have walked to easier and faster. I made it just in time to join the tour. Live and learn; next time I’ll walk.
So, the place: as you can see in the plaque above, I was about to enter the Manicomio di Firenze, ospedale psichiatrico. Founded by Vincenzo Chiarugi, the psychiatric hospital was opened in 1890 (an earlier hospital was on Via San Gallo).
Almost 100 years later, in 1968, this hospital located on Via di San Salvi #12, was shuttered. The city has been attempting to refill the site with various cultural and non-profit organisations ever since. It would be a shame not to use this large campus, composed of 32 hectares and housed in 20 buildings, for something. It is prime property on the outer eastern edge of the city. You can find it with the big red pin below:
Below is a map of the San Salvi grounds, showing how the buildings are laid out and a key to how they are/will be used:
Here’s how the guided tour was advertised to an erudite audience:
“Come with us to walk along the tree-lined avenues of (hospital) San Salvi, a unique place immersed in the city and at the same time quite isolated. Here, in what was once a very active psychiatric hospital– the “crazy” poet Dino Campana was here for a while–as well as important and respected people involved with the field of psychiatry. Today – among the various cultural associations that have a home here – La Tinaia cooperative and the Chille della Balanza theatrical group make it a social and artistic destination, thanks to shows, events and meetings.”
Yesterday was a beautiful fall day in Florence, following a week of continual rain, and we viewed the campus in this amazing autumn sunlight:
Two well-known Italian photographers, Carla Cerati and Gianni Berengo Gardin, documented, in chilling photographs, the story of San Salvi and its inmates, with “harsh images of women and men prisoners, jailed, bound, punished, humiliated, reduced to suffering and need.” If you Google Manicomio Firenze, you can find vintage photographs of the hospital and the patients. It was gruesome.
As I was leaving the campus, this old rusted iron gate seemed to sum up the history of the place for me. The key hole especially records the memory of patients locked in.