Bohnice Park and Psychiatric Institution more than a hospital

The grounds of Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital is an extensive park intersected by paths and street. It is so vast that a public transport bus has several stops here. Many Czechs associate Bohnice with people who are a bit weird. This is not surprising because the Psychiatrická Nemocnice Bohnice, the psychiatric hospital, is located in the Bohnice district. In the past, it was quite normal to spend a few hours in a bedlam or madhouse. Visitors could watch the lunatics for a fee. This practice has been discontinued, but you can wander about the park of the Psychiatric Hospital and have a snack and a drink in the cafe.

Psychiatric Hospital: what to see

1. Vast green park
2. Main building
3. St Wenceslas Church
4. Theater and cafe
5. Pavilions and villas
6. Farm

1. The Park of the Psychiatric Hospital

The psychiatric hospital is more like a village than an institution. Dotted around the grounds are pavilions and villas connected by network of streets and paths connecting the pavilions. They are used as clinics or accommodations for patients and staff and are surrounded by greenery and trees.

The park is so vast that there is a public transport bus no 236 with five stops in the grounds. The park is free to enter and always open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The aim is to integrate patients with the wider community.

The park around the hospital is also a venue for concerts, festivals, exhibitions, workshops and sports competitions organized and attended by employees and patients. The biggest is the music festival Mezi Ploty in the spring, and Babi Leto in the autumn.Anyone is welcome to join in and enjoy the festivities.

2. Main Building

The main building is a baroque country house and seat of the management, administration and pharmacy. In the corridors on the first and second floor there are expositions of works of art made by patients and staff.

3. St Wenceslas Church

Behind the main building is St Wenceslas Church with a square tower topped by a cupola. After 1948, parts of the psychiatric hospital were used barracks and the church served as a military warehouse. That’s why little remains of the original interior of the church. The exterior has not changed and still shows tiled murals depicting St. Wenceslas, St. Ludmila, St. Agnes and St. Adalbert. The church is open during prayer services and on National Heritage Day in September.

The striking 55-meter high tower houses a unique water heating system. It contained several water tanks. Cold water from the highest tank flowed to lower tanks that were heated by means of steam engines. From here the water was distributed to the villas and pavilions. After being connected to the city water supply in 1972, the system is no longer used.

4. Theater and Cafe

Theater Divadlo Za plotem (behind the fence) is the cultural, social and educational centre of the Psychiatric Hospital. Patients and their relatives as well as ‘ordinary’ people are welcome here to attend concert, theater and film performances.

Cafe V Kolona is in the same building as the theater. Patients work here as part of their therapy. They serve coffee and tea and prepare snacks under the watchful eye of their supervisors. The aim is not to lock up patients but to connect them with the outside world.

5. Pavilions and Villas

There are more than thirty pavilions in the grounds in which care is provided to individuals or groups of patients and where patients live. These pavilions are large houses or villas. Initially, the patients slept in dormitories without their own facilities. Over time, these rooms have been replaced by twin rooms with private sanitary and showers. There are also relaxation areas and each pavilion has its own garden. When walking about the grounds, visitors can see the patients sit in groups in their own garden.

6. Therapeutic Farm

A large working farm on the northern edge of the park is used for socio-therapy. Harvesting hay for the horses and looking after them is part of the addiction treatment regimen. Simple agricultural work is also a suitable form of occupational therapy for other groups of patients. Patients also help maintain the park and vegetable garden.

Bohnice Psychiatric Institution: A Brief History

From the middle of the 19th century, Prague institutions for the mentally ill could no longer cope with the ever increasing influx of patients, in 1903, the Principal Committee of the Kingdom of Bohemia decided to solve this problem and decided to build a specialized and modern institution for mental patients.

Construction of the first nine pavilions started in 1912, pavilions for patients and villas for the staff. The work was delayed due to the First World War and it was not completed until 1924.

Today, more than 1,300 patients are treated here, cared for by more than a thousand employees in 31 clinical departments.

Several departments focus on the treatment of classic mental illnesses but there is also a department for the treatment of drugs, alcohol and gambling addiction. In addition, there are therapeutic workshops for patients, like woodwork, ceramics, candle making and basket weaving, and also hippo therapy and music therapy.

Until 1963, deceased patients found their final resting place in the nearby cemetery, which is now no longer maintained. The graves are overgrown with ivy and the names on the tombstones can no longer be read except for one: Maria Tuma Reiter died in 1912.

Treatment and therapy in the early years

In the early days, diagnoses were based on guess work and with today’s knowledge, treatments were experimental. They included electric shock therapy, sedatives, hydrotherapy, hot baths and then being wrapped in cold cloths. Many doctors were convinced that mental disorders had physical causes and should be treated with external stimuli. If the patients did not calm down, they were held in straitjackets or placed in isolation,usually in a room with bare walls, a bed and no furniture.

The doctors treated syphilis by giving patients blood contaminated with malaria. This caused a high fever and sometimes killed the bacteria, but had very unpleasant side effects. This therapy was also applied in cases of mania or schizophrenia, without any result as we now know. The deceased patients were buried by living patients, who also made the coffins as therapy, in the Bohnice cemetery which is part of the psychiatric institutions.

Getting there

Address: Bohnice Psychiatrisch Hospital, Ústavní 91, Bohnice, Praag 8
Public transport: Metro C toKobylisy station, change to bus 177 get off at Odra stop.

Nearby places to visit
Bohnice cemetery and the grave of Maria Tuma
Bohnice self-guided walk
Pet Cemetery

photos Marianne Crone

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