Abandoned insane asylums and sanatoriums have long been of interest to urban explorers and photographers looking to capture their dismal, unsettling atmosphere. Although designed for different purposes, these hospitals of yesteryear were in many ways similar in their long-term treatment of patients, which often amounted to years of isolation from the outside world. Sanatoriums were established primarily to care for tuberculosis patients before the introduction of antibiotics, while ‘lunatic’ asylums reflected an antiquated approach to psychiatric treatment that employed cruel and sometimes barbaric techniques, from shock therapy to lobotomies.
In tuberculosis sanatoriums and hospitals for the treatment of typhoid and other infectious diseases, recovery chances were often slim and death rates high. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many institutions were constructed in isolated locations to prevent the spread of disease to the broader population. And although activities such as gardening were available to make life more tolerable, many patients never left the sanatoriums alive.
Victorian insane asylums, meanwhile, have come to symbolise suffering at the mercy of an emerging medical field that remained in its infancy until well into the 20th century. The bleak, foreboding architecture of the buildings themselves only served to heighten the sense of hopelessness and doom. In this article we step inside the crumbling walls of 12 abandoned sanatoriums and asylums across Europe and North America.
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