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Allgemeines Krankenhaus

The jewel amongst European hospitals in the 1700s was Vienna’s Allgemeines Krankenhaus (‘general hospital’). It was the result of Austrian Emperor Joseph II’s personal vision. Concerned with the growing need for institutional care for the sick poor, Joseph II reorganised welfare for the poor and ill, of which Vienna was estimated to have nearly 5000. Of these, more than 2000 were thought to require hospital care. Previously, the sick poor were housed in one of 1000 beds in 20 charitable institutions, some founded in the 1200s. Familiar with the Hotel Dieu, which he had seen on a trip to Paris, the emperor planned for a single hospital with enough beds to hold all those requiring medical services.

Rather than build a new hospital, the emperor decided to reconstruct an existing almshouse. It was designed by the emperor’s private physician, Joseph Quarin (1733-1814), and the final plan was for a 1500-bed general hospital with lying-in facilities, an asylum and a foundling hospital. It comprised a maze of 111 rooms, more than half for men, and some private rooms. It was staffed by 15 physicians, an equal number of surgeons and 140 lay nursing attendants.

Opened on 16 August 1784, the Allgemeines Krankenhaus became a tourist attraction and a model for renovations in other German lands. Though revolutionary in design, the Allgemeines Krankenhaus soon faced mortality levels of 20% and so prospective paying patients were frightened away. Conditions remained much the same until the death of Joseph II. With the appointment of Johann Peter Frank as director in 1795, the hospital’s decline was halted.

Related Themes and Topics



G Risse, Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)



A historic term for a psychiatric hospital. The term in this context was common in the 1700s and 1800s, but is no longer in use.