Complesso universitario San Niccolò (Siena)

Main DISPOC venue

In the Palazzo San Niccolò, in via Roma 56, Siena, you may find the DISPOC Management, the Administrative office, the Students and Didactics Office, numerous laboratories and the studios of many faculty members.


Brief History of San Niccolò (Ex Psychiatric Hospital) (based on the website of the Department of Philology and Literary Criticism)


This Psychiatric Hospital was inaugurated in 1818, in the ex-monastery of San Niccolò located at Porta Romana, Siena, and was converted to host mentally ill patients, who had until then been kept in inadequate structures. When it opened, it registered 34 patients. The Institute’s financial management was under the responsibility of the Compagnia dei Fratelli Disciplinati Sotto le Volte dell'Ospedale (“Company of the Disciplined Brothers Under the Vaults of the Hospital”), which then became the Società di Esecutori di Pie Disposizioni ("Society of Executors of Pious Dispositions”), who practised their authority through a delegation of four “Brothers” with full power of management. Doctors also had to respect this hierarchy, and limit their tasks to “prescribing medicine, bathing, operations and surgical applications, and variations to hospital treatment for both food and beverages”, though the Deputies of the Society reserved the right to authorise all changes. Even the Director of the hospital was nominated by the Delegation of the Company of the Disciplined, and not by authorities with medical training.


The first director was Giuseppe Lodoli, a Professor of Practical and Clinical Medicine at the University of Siena, who attempted to introduce new therapeutic methodologies to psychiatry, in contrast with the repressive criteria that had been used until then with the mentally ill. The following work of Carlo Livi (director from 1858 to 1873) was decisive: against the dominating opinion of his age, he treated insanity like any other illness, which should be treated by a specialised doctor. A convinced supporter of work as a means of recovering from mental illness, Livi organised San Niccolò into a village, with different pavilions dedicated to various tasks: sewing and mending, carpentry, processing hay, laundry, cobblers, blacksmiths and agricultural work. In addition to their therapeutic aims, these occupations also allowed the Institute to remain independent from the Company’s financial resources. In the first half of the 1900s, the Village of the San Niccolò Psychiatric Hospital was created, which could receive more than 2,000 patients per year. These patients were involved in various activities of weaving and knitting: an actual industrial community of women was developed.


The Hospital was also equipped with a scientific library and a pharmacy. The library, which has recently gone to enhance the endowment of the Central Library of the Department of Medicine of Siena, includes a vast number of works on medicine, mainly focused on psychiatry and neurology. The pharmacy is a small, self-standing unit, built in 1885 in Pompeian Style designed by the architect Francesco Azzurri. It has kept its shelves and equipment intact, while the laboratory behind it has been dismantled.


The collection of medical instruments of the ex-Psychiatric Hospital includes surgical instruments, sanitary devices and laboratory equipment from the 1800s.