The royal madhouse in Palermo at the beginning of the l9th century

D. Gallo, C. Camarda, L.K.C. Camarda, R. Camarda, M. D'Amelio, G. Di Sano, M. Gangitano, R. Monastero and F. Passantino
Institute of Neuropsychiatry, University of Palermo, Italy

The 31st December 1996, Italian mental hospitals have been definitively closed by the Ministry for Health. In this occasion it appeared worth to remember the foundation, in 1825, of the mental hospital of Palermo. Since the middle ages, these patients were placed in close contact with leprous, tuberculous and dermatological patients in the hospital of San Giovanni dei Leprosi founded in the 12th century by King William I, the Norman. The early history of the foundation of the "royal house of mad" in Palermo at the beginning of the 19th century is surrounded by obscurity and uncertainty, and unknown are the possible forces which were operating at that time in Sicily in the direction of the reform for treatment of mental patients. We do not know the external influences which contributed to the need of building a hospital for mentally sick patients only. Certainly, they were not local enlightening forces but, instead social urges followed the Bourbon restoration and the creation of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies because an absolute condition was that the hospitalisation of each patient had to be approved by the Lieutenant General (ministry of the interior) of Sicily. It was in 1824 that Barone Pietro Pisani, a 64-years old nobleman and lawyer, was officially appointed by the Lieutenant General to the superintendency of the hospital for mental patients. Within one year, Pisani was able to rebuild an old palace, to create new units and splendid gardens and to organise the various services of the new hospital. Pisani was personally responsible for the "moral treatment" of the insanes which he considered "the only hopefuI treatment of mental patients". As reported by his biographers, Pisani was not a physician but a cultivated musicologist, a competent archaeologist and a faithful civil servant of the Bourbon dynasty. In one word, he was a selftrained man provided of polyhedral personality who expressed his philantropic urge by assisting and helping mental patients. He certainly was aware of the news of the treatment of mental illness already initiated in Florence by V. Chiarugi, in Paris by Pinel, in England by W. Tuke that could have been brought to Sicily by the numerous visitors of the island at that time. Pisani himself had travelled throughout Europe in his youth and could have been in touch with these problems. Many visitors to Sicily were attracted by Pisani's reputation, but more as a matter of curiosity than of scientific investigation. However, the rates of cure and improvement at the Palermo institution were considered as exceptionally high by all visitors including psychiatrist. The crowds were so numerous, that a special guide to the institution ideated and written by a former mental patient, had to be conceived and printed. Pisani died in 1837 during a cholera epidemic. The reputation of the institution slowly declined and Pisani's method of treatment remained peripheral to the great psychiatric revolution of the 19th century.


Poster Session II
Friday, 20 June 1997, 16.10 - 16.40

Second Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and 6th Meeting of the European Club on the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Leiden, The Netherlands