• Mika Vepsalainen

Narrenturm - the Pathological-Anatomical Collection at an Old Lunatic Asylum in Vienna

Join us for a fascinating tour in an old mental hospital, the Narrenturm in the compound of the Faculty of Medicine of Vienna University and get to know the development of medecine and many of today’s hazards.



The Vienna Collection of Anatomical Pathology is part of the Natural History Museum and is located in the first psychiatric hospital ever built in Austria. It is also the oldest in the whole continental Europe. The Narrenturm (“Lunatic Tower”) is also known among the Viennese as "Guglhupf", the poundcake, we wonder why... It was built in 1784 under Emperor Joseph II who revamped the Austrian health system after a study visit to France. Today, the Narrenturm still has the same cells, barred doors and chains that used to restrain those living there, the mentally ill and the criminally insane.


The lunatic asylum was closed in 1866 and the tower was used among others, as doctors’ and nurses’ quarters. In 1971, the Federal Pathologic-Anatomical Museum moved in with an exceptional collection that includes wax folds of body parts, organs and diseased tissues created for medical students to study at a time when there were no photographs.


Some say that this is the largest collection of historical pathological specimens in the world. Just imagine the syphilitic skulls looking like Swiss cheese or jars with disfigured foetuses and very graphic wax showing the sexually transmitted diseases that were so common in the old days, all awaiting for you in the museum!


Photographing is not allowed but we wouldn’t wish to scare you with the images anyway - it is better to come to see them live! Also, do not forget to look at the building, the poundcake is very interesting! Instead of photos, we are pleased to recommend a book. René Anour’s “Im Schatten des Turms” tells a story from that time in Vienna and also describes what may have happened in the Narrenturm at the time!


Towards the end of the exhibition, there is interesting information about current epidemics and pandemics, including COVID-19, as a good museum lives in time and responds to the needs of the day, too! An interesting option could be to take a tour, during which a medical student or young doctor guides you through the history of the Narrenturm and the special clinical pictures.


There is no museum café but the museum serves a glass of water in the inner yard.


The museum shop is fascinating with tons of books on medicine both for medical students and larger audiences.


There are good lockers for your backbag and stuff behind the ticket counter. The museum is completely accessible and there is a very good handicapped loo, too. It is located in the inner building inside the yard.


Pathologisch-anatomische Sammlung im Narrenturm

Spitalgasse 2, Uni-Campus, 6. Hof , 1090 Wien

www.nhm-wien.ac.at/narrenturm