7 – Museum San Servolo
7 – Museum San Servolo, was once Italy’s most prominent mental institutions; which took in over 200,000 patients, starting in the mid-1700’s.
Nicknamed the “Island of the Mad”, it was transformed into a museum in 2006, educating visitors about its historic past.
Walk through laboratories, therapy rooms, pharmacies and even an on-site anatomical theatre. Most of the medical equipment that was used, is still on display today.
San Servolo, is also the location of the “Venice International University” and the prestigious “International College of Ca’ Foscari University”.
- History Museum
- Suggested duration: 1 – 2 hours
- Vaporetto stop: San Zaccaria
- Cost: €6,00 (adults), €4,50 (reduced)
Nicknamed the “Island of the Mad”, the island of San Servolo, is a unique experience away from the crowded canals of Venice’s city centre. It was once the location of Italy’s most prominent mental institutions, which took in over 200,000 patients starting in the mid-1700s. It was transformed into a museum in 2006, educating visitors about its historic past.
Walk through laboratories, therapy rooms, pharmacies, and even an on-site anatomical theatre. Most of the medical equipment that was used is still on display today.
Above right: One of the three therapies used to treat the insane – bathing, electro-convulsive shock and music.
Isola di San Servolo, that once housed a monastery of Benedictine monks and later an asylum for the insane; is now home to a museum, Venice International University and the prestigious International College of Ca’ Foscari University.
It is a quiet and peaceful island, with an architectural complex surrounded by lush parkland and is now also one of the most important conference centres of Venice and its surroundings. Refreshments are available in the hotel.
Isola di San Servolo is about 5 ha in size and located around 2 kilometres southeast of Piazza San Marco, Venice and about 500 metres off the Lido.
Be aware that the museum is actually rather small and most of the buildings are occupied by Venice University and a hotel. You’ll need to visit the hotel’s reception (opposite the ferry point) to buy a ticket to the museum. Unless you have booked onto a tour; they only open at 10:45 am and 2 pm.
Take the vaporetto Line no 20, from San Zaccaria, just south of Piazza San Marco. Journey time is about 10 minutes. Check all details for your visit and return journey, especially because of possible Covid-19 restrictions.
San Servolo – MUSEUM OF THE INSANE ASYLUM
The Insane Asylum Museum of San Servolo, not only give you an insight in the procedures and daily life at the psychiatric hospital; but also, in its aspect of marginalisation and segregation.
The museum was inaugurated on 20 May 2006 and houses items that belonged to the psychiatric hospital; that operated on the island until 1978.
It is divided into sections: laboratory, clinic, workshops, patients and therapies, restraints, items made by patients, lodgings, anatomic room and photographic collection.
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. Music therapy, was tried for the first time at San Servolo.
The Historical Archive owns a huge collection of more than 50,000 clinical patient records from 1842 until 1978. The first documents even date from 1716.
An intriguing part of the visit is the insight in the evolution of medical science and treatments. Mental therapy in the 19th century, mainly consisted of baths and activities such as working outside or painting and music therapy. The hospital also used the first lie detector.
Left: The Old Pharmacy.
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7 – San Servolo Insane Asylum Museum (not linked)
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The museum has limited opening hours, so you need to carefully plan your visit. It can be visited from Monday to Thursday at 10.45 am and 2.00 pm. During summer (from May until mid-September), it is also open on Friday from 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 11.30 am to 6.30 pm. Alternatively, you can book a private guided tour, outside the official opening hours. Check all details due to any existing Covid-19 restrictions as well as your return vaporetto times.
To widen your experience and enjoyment before visiting, please see my comprehensive and illustrated posts below.
Everything you need to know about the lagoon and its ecosystem, together with all the main islands of interest, other than those directly related to Venice itself – 5* hotels and retreats, universities, churches and monasteries, festival sites, holiday resorts, yacht harbours, old defensive fortifications and military stores and finally old hospitals and isolation sites for plague. If you want to get away from the bustling city of Venice; take a look at what’s on offer. you will be amazed!
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