Among the sights of Vienna there is one building, the whole history of which evokes horror. The Tower of Fools – this name was assigned to one of the buildings of the Museum of the History of Natural History, which used to contain insane people in inhuman conditions, and now there is a collection that presents visitors with all conceivable and unthinkable pathologies and deformities.
The Tower of Fools is a gloomy five-story building that looks like a squat cylinder from the outside. It is located at the University of Vienna. Among locals, this tower is also known as the “rum woman”, because it resembles this baking in its unusual shape.
Each floor of the building is a rounded corridor, on both sides of which are the entrances to small rooms with one narrow window. The construction is crowned by a wooden octagon.
The history of this tower is closely connected with the name of Emperor Joseph II, who at the end of the 18th century ordered the reconstruction of the old building and founded in it a hospital that was innovative at that time. At first, the tower served simultaneously as a hospital, maternity hospital and a madhouse, but later it became exclusively a house of sorrow, i.e. it was completely given for the needs of the treatment of the mentally ill.
Psychiatry of that time was at a zero level of development – in fact, the hospital became a place of detention for unfortunate patients. The riotous were chained, and the rest roamed freely along the corridors. The chambers had no doors, there was no running water in the building, since at that time water for the mentally ill was considered dangerous.
Due to the scarcity of entertainment in those days, the madhouse was besieged by crowds of curious people, and to protect patients from onlookers, the shelter of fools was surrounded by a wall. The building is also noteworthy for the fact that, on the orders of Joseph II, it was installed one of the first, not only in Austria but also in the world, lightning rods. Historians have suggested that the goal of its installation was attempts to use lightning discharges to treat mental illness.
In the mid-19th century, the Tower of Fools in Vienna became a place of detention for the insane, who were found to be hopeless, and those who were trying to treat were transferred to a new hospital. And in 1869 this shelter for the insane was closed, and for the next 50 years the tower was empty.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the empty building was given over to the dormitory of the medical staff of the Vienna City Hospital; later, there were medicine stores, workshops, and a dispensary for doctors. And in 1971, the Tower of Fools was transferred to the University of Vienna, the pathological museum was opened and the largest collection not only in Austria, but throughout the world, representing all kinds of pathologies and deformities of the human body, was located.
What can be seen inside
The collection, which formed the basis of the exposition of the pathoanatomical museum, which works in the Tower of the Crazies, was started at the end of the 18th century by the natural scientist Joseph Pascual Ferro. Johann Peter Frank, the head physician of the Vienna City Hospital, who founded the first institute and museum of pathological anatomy in Austria, succeeded him. Since then, the collection has grown to more than 50 thousand exhibits.
For more than two centuries, surgeons, pathologists and scientists of Austria have collected exhibits that fill today the numerous rooms of the Tower of Crazy People in Vienna. This collection was especially generously replenished during periods of frequent epidemics in those days. For squeamish and faint of heart, visiting museum halls can cause a lot of unpleasant emotions. Those who have been to the Kunstkamera of St. Petersburg can easily imagine the contents of this collection.
All kinds of malformations of various organs are presented here, both in natural looking wax models and in alcoholic preparations. You will see that not every pathologist is able to contemplate for his practice: fruits and babies with all kinds of deformities, organs affected by various terrible diseases, helminths and other little aesthetic objects and phenomena.
The exposition also contains surgical instruments of various eras, reminiscent of instruments of torture, by which one can trace the evolution of this branch of medicine. You can also see dental and gynecological chairs and other equipment of medical offices of the past.
Here you can also get acquainted with the terrible history of the Tower of Fools and the inhuman conditions of the mentally ill people, examine the wards, more like prison cells, with chained figures depicting unhappy patients. There is a morgue room recreated in all realities and a pathologist’s workplace.
Taking photographs and shooting videos in the museum is strictly prohibited. But everyone who wants to periodically update what they see in their memory can buy a catalog of museum exhibits with color photographs.
The Pathological Museum of Vienna, known in Austria as the Tower of Fools, is located near the center of Vienna, on the territory of the university.
The attraction is located at: Spitalgasse 2, Vienna 1090, Austria.
The easiest way to reach it is by metro, taking the U2 line to Schottentor Station. You can also take a tram along the ring to the Votivkirche stop, and then walk a little.
Crazy Tower (Vienna, Austria) is open to visitors only three days a week:
- wednesday 10-18
- thursday 10-13
- saturday 10-13
The price of the entrance ticket is € 2, it gives the right to independently examine only the halls of the first floor. For those who wish to view the rest of the exhibition along with a guided tour, the ticket price is € 4 per person.
More information about the Tower of Fools in Austria can be found on the official website of the Pathological Museum of Vienna: www.nhm-wien.ac.at/en/museum.
A visit to the Pathological Museum of Austria, located in the architectural and historical monument of Vienna, known as the Tower of Fools, does not guarantee pleasant emotions. But there is no doubt that it does not leave anyone indifferent.