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The Volterra Asylum: a surrealistic experience

A place that doesn’t exist anymore, at least officially, but it continues to live and carry on memories, pain and suffering. In other words the feelings of patients during their treatment in the Volterra Asylum . It was a comprehensive structure used to host 6,000 patients, but today it lays in a situation of degradation, embedded in a framework of trees that creates a surrealistic atmosphere. Time, inside the Volterra Asylum, seems to have stopped in 1978, the year of its closing, but walls, windows and writing left everywhere  are still telling a lot.  They’re telling about trapped lives, misunderstood people and feelings crushed under the weight of the word “mad”.

The Volterra Asylum as a “village”

The Volterra Asylum in the years has been known to cure the inmates in an innovative way.  The most famous Director of the facility was Luigi Scabia, the creator of the Asylum as “village” for the disturbed. A project that intended to bring patients to regain dignity, as much as possible,  and a little place in the social world through work and hardship. Feeling like a person would have rehabilitated them, and would have given them some relief. Instead, feeling like a locked-up person would have worsened their situation. Inmates could work within laundry, furnace, greenhouse, little farm or a butcher shop: in this way they felt important and the facility boosted its profits, in fact a part of the production was sold.

A simple tip and their life changed forever

It was very simple to be interned and called “mad”, in some cases also for trivial reasons: a Sardinian family of shepherds was institutionalized for a week just because they had problems to be make themselves understood. They spoke only Sardinian dialect, they were not crazy. A woman, again according to the same sources, was locked up in the Volterra Asylum just because she was very jealous of her husband, due to his exploits in adultery. These are reasons that are inconsistent with the aim of the facility.

A tip was sufficient and their life changed forever: entering an Asylum and wearing the “mad” uniform represented a groove in the existence of people. There’s a before and an after. Life could suddenly change from normal to off the grid. And  without understanding.

A crazy act in the middle of madness

Engraving a 180-metre-long courtyard wall with the buckle of a vest is only a crazy act in the middle of madness: a way to be remembered. In the present and in the future. And that’s exactly what Oreste Nannetti, renamed “Nof4“, did during the years in the Volterra Asylum: stories, tales and events depicted and inscribed like a book. A “particular” book, a result of loneliness, denial and abandonment but that sets out the world seen through the eyes of an inmate or, as he defined himself, of an “astronaut-mining engineer in the mental system

A lot of inmates had serious problems, but some of them were there by mistake. And there was a sentence, founded in the correspondence of Asylum, that describes it perfectly: “Here 10% of us dies of electric shock, 40% of incorrect treatments and 50% of lack of love


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