Altes AKH - Old General Hospital - Part I
Vienna′s only "Campus", a student hang-out

The Narrenturm in the Altes AKH Vienna is an 18th century hospital for mentally ill and now a museum

The Altes AKH or Old General Hospital is a campus area that dates back to the 17th century. It served as a hospital, later as a teaching venue for the University of Vienna (which to some extent it still does). In 1998, the campus was transformed into a commercial area with bars, shops and companies that rent the facilities. The Altes AKH is a "spiritual" centre to the 9th district of Alsergrund, where the many students gather and mingle in the evenings. Outside of term, the Altes AKH is rather quiet. However, the old courtyards of the campus gain some distinct charms when they are almost empty.

The history of the Altes AKH can be tracked back to the 17th century. After the Second Siege of Vienna and the defeat of the Turkish army, there were many injured and even crippled soldiers. As a gesture of gratitude, a wealthy doctor called Johann Franckh donated a large stretch of land near the Alser River. It bordered to a hospital and according to the will of Franckh, a military hospital should be built here. At first, there was not enough money available to do this, but then Emperor Leopold I donated a larger sum; in 1693, the first General Hospital of Vienna was opened.

The oldest court already housed an impressive 1042 people; meeting the will of Franckh, one wing was reserved for crippled or injured soldiers - another wing, however, was open for poor civilians. The number of inhabitants - some were here for short medical treatment, others stayed in what was run as some sort of retirement home for former soldiers - constantly increased. By 1724, it reached 1740 people.

Vienna General Hospital in Baroque Days

Two years later, the wealthy nobleman Sir Ferdinand of Thavonat died and left his property for retired soldiers. A second, large court was built and interconnected with the first one - this way, the current campus with five courtyards at its core developed. Emperor Karl VI donated another considerable sum of money in 1733, which was used to build a representative, Baroque staircase and to extend the campus.

Between 1752 and 1774, two more courtyards were added to the hospital. At this time, inhabitants of the "hospital" of the Altes AKH had to wear some sort of uniform, had their own currency which was valid only at shops and food stores within the campus and were generally being cared for. Being in Austria, this little Communist island naturally attracted a lot of corruption. When Emperor Joseph II (the last Austrian to show a keen interest in getting things done) inspected the facility in 1783, he soon figured that many people who lived here were not necessarily poor.

If you knew the right person and got the right certificate, you could get a permission to apply for a document which then…well, Austria still works this way. Emperor Joseph II, however, was upset and closed the whole thing down. He hired his personal doctor to become the new director of what was re-founded as the "Allgemeines Krankenhaus" or General Hospital, a proper hospital in (almost) the modern sense.

Continue with "Altes AKH - Part II"

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Further Reading

City of Vienna: English article on the Altes AKH Campus

Official Website of the Altes AKH / Uni Campus

Wikimedia Commons has photos from the Altes AHK Vienna