Ophthalmology at the time of the Belle Époque
The 19th century saw the flourishing of the first clinics dedicated to ophthalmology, all across Europe. Some of them, still standing today, are real architectural gems that have conserved much of their original beauty.
The charm of the first eye hospitals
While institutions for the blind were already in existence at the time of the Middle Ages, it was not until 1804 that the first hospital dedicated to ophthalmological treatment was opened. Despite being reorganized and extended a number of times, Moorfields Eye Hospital – named after the neighborhood in London where it was established – has kept its magnificent sculpted decor and its original facade.
The Netherlands equally deserve a mention, for their national ophthalmological hospital which was founded in the 19th century in Utrecht. Since 1894, it has stood in an incredible Dutch Renaissance-inspired building, flanked by imposing towers and featuring gabled facades and gothic turrets.
Inside, visitors could admire sculpted vaults, wall hangings and wood paneling. The hospital was in operation until 1989, and the building should in future host luxury apartments.
An Italian palazzo dedicated to ophthalmology in Zurich
Inaugurated at the end of the 19th century, the Zurich University Eye Clinic, in Switzerland, is suggestive of an Italian palazzo with its Roman-style facades and terraced rooftop.
At that time, the building was designed to meet the different needs of the doctors working there, thanks to a close collaboration between the clinic’s director, Professor Otto Haab, and the university’s architect. The clinic closed its doors in 1953, moving into a modern building instead. Today the palazzo houses the University of Zurich’s Institute of Art History.
A clinic that boasts exceptional architecture in Strasbourg
Although eye clinics were springing up all over Europe, it was not until the very end of the 19th century that France acquired its first hospitals dedicated to treating eye conditions. France may have largely missed out on the trend of building clinics that were like palaces, but there was one notable exception: the Strasbourg clinic that was inaugurated in 1891.
The fruit of a collaboration between the professor Ludwig Laqueur and the architect Maximilian Issleiber, the clinic buildings feature decorative bossage and carved sandstone archways, while their facades are adorned with ancient-style friezes.
Expanded in the 1970s, the ophthalmological clinic of Strasbourg moved to new premises in 2009. The modern-day buildings only house administrative services now.
Today, all of these “palaces of medicine” stand as beautiful reminders of the advancement of ophthalmology over the last centuries.