In one of the oldest, most intriguing areas of Napoli lies a dim workshop clustered with disembodied limbs, eyes missing their partner and organs ready for transplant. No, not a horror film in real life, rather one of the best hospitals in Naples, which gives its patients a new breath of life allowing them to live on another 100 years. Dolls, toys and puppets needn’t fear in Naples, as the Ospedale delle Bambole (The Doll Hospital) can cure any ailment, and at the same time restore the dreams of their owners.
Luigi Grassi’s chaotic workshop can be found in Via S. Biagio dei Librai in the area of Spaccanapoli, named so because it literally ‘spaccava in metà’, or cut in half, the old city. Four generations of his family have worked, and work, here in the hospital creating their magic.
The Story of the Doll Hospital
The Hospital has a charming history. At the beginning of the 19th century Luigi Grassi, a handsome man with a curling mustache, had a workshop where he painted theatre scenography and repaired all kinds of scenographic objects including puppets, much to the curiosity of all who passed by. As the story goes, one day a frantic mother came into the shop with a broken doll and begged Grassi to repair it. Gallantly, he told her not to worry and that he would return the doll good as new. A few weeks later, on seeing the cured toy, the mother proclaimed to the ‘Doctor’ that she would tell her child she had visited a magician’s workshop. The fame spread and soon ‘Doctor’ Grassi was obliged to write in red pen on a wooden sign ‘Ospedale delle Bambole’ adorned with a red cross and place it above his workshop.
Visiting the Hospital
With each new patient being provided with a hospital bed, nurses and prescriptions, this is a fantastic place to visit with children. However its charms are certainly not limited to children. Grassi is an artist, craftsman, doctor and perhaps magician all in one and it is inspiring and nostaglia-provoking to see the care and skill which is dedicated to each work. In fact, the Hospital also treats sacred statues, including creating wigs and clothing, using ancient and conservative techniques. While the amusing mini-hospital is what tends to capture attention, Grassi’s workshop is a place of serious, painstaking and extremely skilled artistry. More information in visiting times, how to book a visit, and the work they execute can be found in their website, in English and Italian.
Be sure to look at the Hospital’s instagram page which has unsettlingly eerie images of disembodied heads and garishly coloured old toys more reminiscent of a horror film than a place that restores the dreams of children…
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