Hospitals, especially abandoned ones, have an ominous atmosphere surrounding them. These places are naturally connected to disease, pain and death and maybe this is why we tend to avoid them overall. With illness being a constant agony in our society, why is it that there are some many hospitals abandoned?
We have visited several abandoned hospitals during our travels. The photograph above is from an abandoned hospital, a sanatorium, in Poland. A beautiful old building with bright corridors and marvelous architecture, even a hospital chapel, and is now decaying and will eventually collapse or face demolition. The story behind an abandoned hospital is almost always intertwined to one of two reasons: tuberculosis or psychiatric care, or both.
With the case of tuberculosis, the disease has been with us since antiquity, but its pathogenesis wasn't understood until in the 1820s and 1830s. The first TB ”sanatorium” was established in 1859 but the contagiousness was not widely accepted until 1880s. This was the onset of building of tuberculosis hospitals, usually in a distance from urban settlements because of better air quality for the coughing TB-patients. In the 1950s and 1960s, new forms of drugs, such as antibiotics, were discovered and in many western countries, the spread of the disease began to halt with the help of rigorous public health campaigns. This also meant that for the hospitals, new purposes had to be found. Many of them were converted into psychiatric hospitals.
The second reason for the large amount of abandoned hospitals is the history of psychiatric care especially in the US and in Europe. The beginning of psychiatry as a medical speciality dates to the middle of the 19th century. This also meant the beginning of an era of institutionalized psychiatric care - the rise of the “asylum”. Before this, ”lunatic hospitals” practically didn’t differ from jails.
In the beginning of the 20th century, psychiatric hospitals were overcrowded and the conditions were in many places horrible. The developments in psychiatry, medicine and psychoanalytic theory in the 20th century were huge leaps forward and created pressure to reinvent the care of mentally ill. The invention of chlorpromazine and other antipsychotic drugs meant that many patients could be treated in outpatient care and so the period of deinstitutionalization began in the 1950s and 1960s leaving many psychiatric hospitals empty of patients.
We walked the white corridors of this Polish sanatorium and wondered what stories these rooms were hiding from us. We’ve seen old photographs and read the weird and dark history of the place and again felt lucky to have had opportunity to see the place. It is always a race against time, many beautiful old sanatoriums are being torn down sooner or later.