San Francesco di Sales complex: convent, school and asylum

by Leonardo Quagliuolo

Halfway between the Vomero and the historic center, between the busy street Salvator Rosa and the least known Piazzetta Caesarea, stands a large building, which today houses the high school Gian Battista Vico. Its history has seen it employed in the most disparate activities: before being a school building, it was a convent, a barracks and even an asylum!

The convent of San Francesco de Sales and its many roles

In 1881, the "Real Establishment dedicated to San Francesco de Sales", a large seventeenth-century building, becomes a "house of the mad“, in the city center, going completely counter to the debates that in previous years had characterized the meetings of local politicians and doctors about the fate of that place.

The decision was difficult and discussed for a long time, but necessary, due to the overcrowding of the asylum structures and new laws for the Provinces, with the obligation of maintenance by the same of poor patients, it was necessary to transfer a large number of Neapolitan internees from pre-existing structures such as the Real House of Fools by Aversa to one new institution, which should have been instituted in a short time, in Naples.

San Francesco di Sales opg aversa
The psychiatric hospital of Aversa, today unrecognizable compared to this photo
Complesso San Francesco di Sales: convento, scuola e manicomio

Among the structures selected to draw up a ranking, two ancient religious buildings stood out, the convent of Santa Maria dell'Arco in Sant'Anastasia and the convent of St. Francis de Sales, in Naples.

The first structure, already used for a role comparable to Real Hotel of the Poor in Napoleonic period, took on a new role. After numerous renovations and vicissitudes, in 1906 the structure was closed, only to be bought back by a religious order in the 1930s and definitively return to its ancient role.

The other structure, a vast religious building on the ancient Ascent of the Infrascata, was the subject of numerous discussions in the municipality: it was very large and a restructuring to adapt it to its new role would have been expensive. Had been built in the distant 17th century, with a completely different purpose from that which it would have met, unlike a building designed from scratch, therefore considered unsuitable.

San Francesco di Sales
The convent of San Francesco de Sales in an ancient illustration. Thanks to Virtual Museum of Architecture

In addition, it was located in the city center, with little green surrounding. Conditions considered by many to be unsuitable for a place with such a delicate purpose as caring for mental health, despite having also covered other roles with a welfare or health nature: in fact, in 1814 it was used as a extension of the Royal Hotel for the poor and later also in a hospital for women only.

Despite every form of opposition by the competent authorities in common, the decision was taken: the new one was inaugurated Provincial asylum of San Francesco de Sales.

San Francesco di Sales
Provincial asylum of Naples "San Francesco di Sales", in a vintage illustration. Thanks to: The spaces of madness

The first director, already an established psychiatrist of the time, was Giuseppe Buonuomo, who advocated for the construction of a new hospital there, perhaps due to the large usable spaces and the great savings compared to building a completely new structure.

The structure also saw the painter among its many guests Antonio Mancini (which today has a dedicated street, to Vomero), in 1881.

The management, after Dr. Buonuomo, was followed by another illustrious psychiatrist from Campania, Professor Leonardo Bianchi, which remained there until the new change of role of the structure, at the beginning of the 1900s: in fact, the San Francesco de Sales was replaced by the "New provincial asylum of Naples"In Calata Capodichino, which would later take the name of its famous director, Bianchi himself.

San Francesco di Sales, Leonardo Bianchi
The psychiatrist Leonardo Bianchi

In 1911, the large complex it was used as a barracks, only to undergo a further, drastic change of role in 1925: the structure was divided between two schools, the Gian Battista Vico high school, which already exists, but in another location and a primary school, dedicated to the historian Vincenzo Cuoco, both still in business today.

-Leonardo Quagliuolo

For more:

Virtual Museum of Architecture


Asylum architectures

Gian Battista Vico High School

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