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Visit to the former Asylum of Volterra

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The former psychiatric hospital of Volterra, a place of memory

Last Sunday we have visited the former Asylum of Volterra, a place of great importance for what it represented both for the people who were confined there and for the city of Volterra. The former psychiatric hospital is located in the area of Borgo San Lazzero just one kilometer away from the historic city center. It is a very large structure made up of various pavilions that in the period of greatest expansion (in 1939) came to count 4794 presences!

Former Asylum of Volterra stairs

Founded in 1887, the asylum experienced a very strong expansion during the direction of Luigi Scabia (1900-1934), when several buildings were built and the hospital became a sort of autonomous village in which there were various productive structures including a carpentry, a bakery, various shops and even a furnace used to create bricks for the construction of the pavilions.

The figure of Scabia is particularly important because he introduced ideas that were revolutionary at the time. During his time, the internees, who were granted greater freedom than the standards of the time, were employed in a wide range of work activities, from agriculture to the production of objects. The guests of the structure were also involved in the archaeological excavations that brought to light the Roman theater of Volterra. The idea was to give back some human dignity to these people, even if those practices widespread in asylums such as electroshock and lobotomy were not abandoned.

The former Asylum of Volterra
The former Asylum of Volterra

The visit inside the asylum and the “corrispondenza negata”

During the visit there was the possibility to enter inside some pavilions (those less unsafe). Here, among crumbling structures and various graffiti, some texts written by the patients are exposed: pages full of anguish useful to make people understand the sufferings that these people had to endure enclosed in this place.

Letter from the former Asylum of Volterra

One thing that I really appreciated about this visit was the presence of two actors who intervened at two different times. The first of the two allowed us to get even more in touch with the world of inmates by reading some letters that they sent to their relatives. Unfortunately, communication with the outside world was not allowed and the letters were therefore archived without ever being sent. If you are interested, we point out a book entitled “Corrispondenza negata“, which collects dozens of these writings.

Inside the former Asylum of Volterra

Oreste Fernando Nannetti

Continuing with the visit we arrived in the courtyard of the judicial pavilion. Here we met the second actor in the guise of what was the most illustrious guest of the structure: Oreste Fernando Nannetti.

Judicial pavilion the former Asylum of Volterra

Nannetti, who used to sign N.O.F.4, spent many years of his life engraving the walls of the courtyard using small buckles. The result of this work is astounding as we talk about a complex cycle of science fiction stories covering a surface 180 meters long and 2 meters high.

“I am an astronautic mining engineer in the mental system”

“Mobile metric graph of hospital mortality 10% for  televised magnetic radiations 40% for various diseases transmitted or caused 50% for personal hate and resentment provoked or transmitted”.

Today many of these graffiti have been removed from their original site to be preserved from the bad weather and vandalism that unfortunately are frequent.

The graffiti of N.O.F.4
The graffiti of N.O.F.4 (Photo by Jacopo Romanelli)

The museum

At the end of the visit, we were accompanied to a small museum where numerous testimonies from the psychiatric hospital are collected. Here you can see a part of the graffiti made by N.O.F.4, clothes, various objects made by the patients and different machines that were used for the “care” of the sick as the machine for the electroshock or the one for the light baths.

machine for the electroshock

Info about the visit

The visit was organized by the association I luoghi dell’abbandono and lasted about two and a half hours.
Entrance costs 15 euros but it is free for children up to 12 years.
For more information I suggest you contact them at the email iluoghidellabbandonomail@gmail.com or through the site www.iluoghidellabbandono.com.

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