Standing at the top of a hill in a forested area near the centre of Volterra, Italy, stands this decaying psychiatric hospital. Once housing over 6,000 patients, this building now contains only empty beds, abandoned wheelchairs, and graffiti. It was once dubbed “the place of no return” because it was said that once you were sent to Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, you never returned home.
It was rife with physical and mental abuse and was infamous for its use of electroshock therapy as well as the grim practice of inducement of comas with insulin. Patients were often sedated, isolated from others and frequently chained to their beds. Patients would also be forced to spend prolonged periods of times in freezing cold baths. Letters and gifts from the patient’s family members on the outside were confiscated so that the patients had a true sense of isolation.
It was eventually closed down in 1978 after the practices used within the walls were deemed as cruel.
Welcome to Volterra, an asylum once for the mentally ill,
now abandoned left to ruin.
Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra has been abandoned since
1978 when its practices were deemed too cruel by the Basaglia Law passed by the
Italian government. Today just a few rusty wheelchairs sit strewn amongst the
broken glass and graffiti, as nature has almost completely taken over the
Somebody was having a little too much fun with some mannequins
when we visited, which admittedly scared the living shit out of us.
Those deemed mentally ill were confined here at the slightest
sign of schizophrenia or depression, and many who were imprisoned were not ill
at all but were in fact political prisoners, interred for speaking out against
the fascist regime of the time.
Practices included electroshock therapy, sedation and
isolation; less commonly seen practices were to place patients in tanks of ice,
induce them into comas using insulin, and even test pills and poisons on them
with a complete disregard for the often-irreversible consequences. The patients
were denied any communication with the outside world and their families;
letters were confiscated, parcels intercepted.
The writings of a madman, carved into Volterra’s courtyard
walls using his own belt buckle, are still visible today. Fernando Oreste
Nannetti was imprisoned here for 14 years until his death, as were hundreds of
other patients earning Volterra the nickname “The place of no return”.
Psychiatrists, historians and astrologists have all studied the carvings but no
one has yet managed to decipher them.
Follow the hashtag #Fromrusttoroadtrip to follow our van conversion project and our travels around Europe! 🌍