“ My duty was to tell the truth: there was an order even in asylums; madness itself had his own laws, its customs and it was a mystery, like everyday life. ” ( Mario Tobino, 1910-1991 )1
Sant' Eframo Psychiatric and Judicial Hospital in Naples ( via Matteo Renato Imbriani ) was originally a convent, whose construction was started on a hill named “Infrascata” at the end of the 16th century as the Capuchins’ principal stay in Naples and its surroundings.
The name “ Eframo ” probably refers to “ Eufebio ”, bishop of Naples in the 3rd century, a great man whose glory, fame and miracles inspired the Capuchins in giving his name to their new home.
After a series of quarrels and rivalries in the order, which were followed by the division of Sant’ Eframo order itself, the building was completed at the beginning of the 17th century and enriched with the stairway of the entry, the cistern and other appliances.
The structure was great: 160 bedrooms for monks and believers, the cloister, courtyards, libraries and even a place similar to the modern pharmacies. The presence of the convent was prominent also for the rising presence of both monks and nuns in Naples: about 4.000 in the 16th century, over 15.000 at the half of the 17th century!
Everything changed in 1865, when the new-born Kingdom of Italy replaced the convent and transformed it in a penitentiary, with a great loss of manuscripts and other important historical documents, besides the role of the building itself.
The stairway to the entrance
External view of the hospital
An unusual asylum
Sant’ Eframo soon turned into an asylum and knew the confused laws linked to the Italian Penal Code Zanardelli (1890), which dealt with the problem of considering “ not guilty ” an insane person who committed crime, as well as the difficulties in finding proper places ( kind of a “ judicial prison ” ) in which these people could stay.
Further changes occurred during the 20th century: Sant’ Eframo and many other asylums ( the madhouse "Reale Casa dei Matti" in Aversa is one of the most sadly famous ) started to receive not only patients with psychiatric problems, but also those who were regarded as “ socially dangerous subjects ”2 after the “Giolitti law” in 1904, which turned the inmates into needless humans with no rights.
Sant’ Eframo and other similar buildings in Italy were called “ OPG ” ( Psychiatrical and Judicial Hospitals ) from the 26th of July 1975, but the turning point was on May 1978, when, after the famous “ 180 Law ” ( or “Basaglia Law”, from the Italian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia) Italy decided to close all the OPG, hospitals ( or rather, jails ) no more appropriate nor useful for patients’ health3. But where could they find a new place to stay?
One of the gloomy corridors of Sant' Eframo
The iron door of a jail cell…
…and its distressing inside
A long wait
Despite these measures, the situation of the OPG in Sant’ Eframo did not seem to get better. In his interview for the national daily “ L’Unità ” in June 1979, Massimo Amodio, supervision magistrate in Naples, described the hospital as a “still working” building, but whose conditions could not assure the inmates’ recovery4; Sant’ Eframo wasn’t able to close, since its patients would not have had any other social structure to go to.
As time went by, the situation in Sant’ Eframo did not change. The conditions of both the institute and the patients’ got worse year after year: brittle and dirty walls, terrible hygienic conditions, rising difficulties in treating the patients; in March 2006 the Italian writer Giampaolo Rugarli, after visiting the OPG, described Sant’ Eframo as a place more similar to a prison than to a hospital, with its heavy bars on each window, its cells and spaces, its inmates’ eyes as hopeless, painful, resigned and bored.
A year later, Dario Dell’Aquila, member of “ Antigone association ”, depicted the same absurd problems ( like the one of the insufficient personnel ), also finding a general mood of incomprehension and rage in some patients’ words, unable to understand the reasons of such a situation, looking for help, or a cigarette. Even the activities organized by the hospital/prison ( like the magazine “33,3”, the work in the laundrette or in the " botton room ") cannot give any concrete form of satisfaction. According to the director Umberto Racioppoli, half of the people inside the hospital could go out, but nobody would have given them hospitality. Sant’ Eframo has always been sadly famous for the unusual experience of one of his patients, Vito La Rosa5, who spent more than 50 years in this type of structures, incapable of leaving without the help of his family and the support of the Ministry of Justice.
The corridor near the courtyard
A patient's old pair of shoes beyond the iron bars of a cell
The old laundrette of the OPG : some of the inmates' clothes are still there
Dusty buttons in the " button room "
The patients in Sant' Eframo were gradually sent back home or to special prisons ( the so called " Area verde " in Secondigliano, for example), since 2007, whereas the " hospital " actually stopped working in December 2015.
The gradual neglect of the hospital has found something unexpected on its path when, in March 2015, some university students decided to take possession of the building in order to use the rooms and spaces of the abandoned OPG for cultural, social and sports activities for children and families victims of the economic crisis. The boys and girls at the head of this project decided to call it: “ Je so’ pazzo ”, from the title of a renowned song by the Italian singer and musician Pino Daniele, but also to underline the choice of being a little crazy in a reality which often disappoints people’s expectations and does not seem to offer “ normal ” solutions.
Yard time space
Nowadays it's one of the entertainment spaces used by " Je so' pazzo "
Je so' pazzo's logo
- Photos and main text by Silvino Di Francesco ti.kooltuo|ocsecnarfid.onivlis#| and Giovanni Emendato moc.liamg|idnemeoig#| ( January 2016 )
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- Massimo Amodio, “ I manicomi hanno solamente cambiato nome ”, L’Unità , 17 Giugno 1979
- R. Castiglione, “ Il ritorno del Mariolino ovvero dell’insostituibile funzione del manicomio criminale ”, Rassegna penitenziaria e criminologica, 1986
- F. Del Beccaro, Mario Tobino, in Letteratura italiana. Il '900, vol VII, Marzorati, Milano 1979
- Ugo Fornari , Trattato di psichiatria forense, UTET giuridica, Torino 2008
- Maura Gualco, “ Dimenticato cinquant’anni in manicomio ”, L’Unità, 10 Giugno 2001