Real Casa dei Matti di Palermo

Pietro Pisani founded the first "Royal House of the Mad" in Palermo (Via Pindemonte), in 1824. It was located outside the western city walls, in a neighborhood called "Porrazzi". In that area there was the former novitiate of Teresiani Scalzi's order.
During the nineteenth century psychiatry progressed. As a result, in 1885 Francesco Paolo Palazzotto was commissioned to design a "New Asylum" in an area of about 25 hectares, situated nearly a kilometre away from the previous site. In fact this kind of structure was usually built at a “safe distance” from the old town, according to the typical isolation of these buildings.1

Complesso della Vignicella


"In the complex will be allowed people from all walks of life and of any age." (P.Pisani,1827)2


() The whole building is enclosed by an outer wall and a thriving vegetation that gave the name to the complex. That's the reason why nowadays there is a nursery behind the former Psychiatric Hospital.


Around 1500 the land and the building were bought by the Jesuits and, in 1681, were merged with the estate of the Uscibene's.
Until 1802, the madmen were hospitalized together with other people suffering from scabies or from pulmonary tuberculosis in San Giovanni dei Lebbrosi Hospital near the Oreto river.
In the same year patients were transferred to the hospice of Santa Teresa to the Porrazzi because madmen's human conditions had to be improved; nevertheless, they remained marginalized.
After 1888, with the suppression of the ecclesiastical orders, the complex was confiscated by the government and in place of the hospice, the first pavillon of Pisani's Hospital was built.3


The right side of the building in front of which there is a courtyard with the Church dedicated to Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo and a former convent. ()


() The left side of the building surrounded by the wall and the vegetation that has grown up flourishing.


Pietro Pisani was one of the first in Italy who changed the common approach to madmen according to Philippe Pinel’s idea.
Moreover, in his "Istruzioni" (Instructions,1827), Pisani gave an internal regulation like the following:

  • First of all holding people from all walks of life and of any age
  • Making no difference between madness and the other diseases4
  • Studying their behavior during the periods of delirium (in terms of mental disorders) trying to calm them down with kind methods in order to educate them5
  • The presence in the hospital of three doctors including a surgeon and four medical students as well6
  • The patients had their relatives taken from them because of therapeutic purposes7
  • The practice of ergotherapy and more free time for the patients.8
  • The improvement of the environment with more green areas and open space inside the hospital in order to promote a new atmosphere for madmen
  • The abolition of chains and sticks9
  • The use of strenght, sometimes essential, with thoughtfulness than with rigidity10
  • A distinction between spaces for women and those for men
  • Poor people were supported by the hospital itself.11
  • Snoopy people, tourists and any other were banned from entering the hospital for a matter of respect towards madmen12

On the left, the courtyard close to the building presents a former convent dating back to 1762.


Next to the former convent there is the Church dedicated to Santa Maria of Uscibene and called later Santa Rosalia.


"A chaplain had to live inside the complex, he had to celebrate holy mass for the sick, to practice extreme unction and typical religious rituals." (P.Pisani,1827)13


Pietro Pisani Hospital is a healthcare facility and from June of 2017 has started activity of recovery of traditional neurologic and robotic rehabilitation.


  • Photos and main text by Gaetana La Marca ti.supmacla|acramal.anateag#| and Maria Aurora Piccione ti.supmacla|| (January 2019)


  • Sebastiano Catalano, Le stanze ferite, dalla Real casa dei matti al Manicomio di Palermo, Offset Studio, Palermo 2008, pp. 340

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